Through the Bahamas

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Through the Bahamas
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      Leaving Fort Lauderdale    

7 January 2010

With mixed feelings, we say farewell to all our friends in Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach. They have all been so welcoming, generous and hospitable and made our extended time in Fort Lauderdale extremely enjoyable. We will miss our weekly kayaking and other regular get-togethers. Hopefully, many will come and visit us onboard somewhere out in the islands.

Motored down the ICW from Kim’s dock at Pompano Beach, through Atlantic Boulevard, Commercial Boulevard, Oakland Park Boulevard, Sunrise Boulevard and Las Olas Boulevard opening bridges to Bahia Mar Marina in Fort Lauderdale where we stopped to fill fuel tanks and jerry cans.

As their fuel dock was due to close shortly after we completed fuelling, they allowed us to stay on the dock for a couple of hours while we prepared the boat for sea. Securing kayaks, setting up lifelines, getting sails ready and making sure that everything we would need was to hand.

Set off from there around 7pm after dark further down the ICW and through the last bridge, 17th Street Causeway, then out to sea through Port Everglades.

We had planned to sail down the coast to Miami, to give us a better angle for crossing the Gulfstream which would carry us north again so we could enter the Bahamas Banks at North Rock, just north of Bimini. However, the wind and sea were calm, so we motored straight across and were able to hold a good heading directly to North Rock..




The Bahamas Banks
Leaf Cay in the Exumas
Leaf Cay to Long Cay
Crooked Island - Long Cay
Crooked Island - Fish Cay
Acklins Island - Datum Bay
Hogsty Reef
Little Inagua

      Sailing through the Bahamas Banks    

8 January 2010

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Passed North Rock early morning in the dark and continued across the banks with an average of 20 foot depths in order to make it through the North West Channel, (the narrow exit point from the banks) in daylight. Then turned south down the very deep Tongue of the Ocean where depths drop to 7,000 feet.

Iza had our fishing lines out before we hit deep water. She will be out there, sun, wind, cold or rain determined to beat the odds of us usually being in the wrong place, at the wrong time and going at the wrong speed to catch fish.

Arrived at the Decca West day marker, which marks the channel across the banks to the central Exumas established by the US military when they had a Decca station on Pipe Cay in the Exumas some years ago.

As the three channel markers were unlit and there was no moon, we anchored just off the channel for a few hours.


      Sheltering in Leaf Cay in the Exumas    

9 - 12 January 2010

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Started through the Decca Channel at 6am on Saturday 9th, taking us through to the west side of the Central Exumas, then out through Dotham Cut into Exuma Sound and turned south east heading for Leaf Cay, just north of Lee Stocking Island. It's not a popular spot to anchor and not one of the recommended major cold front hide out spots but it is very well protected with good holding and we knew the imminent cold front was going to be a real beaut!

Arrived in calm conditions around 3pm. It turned out to be a great choice. No other boats to get in the way so plenty of room to put out 200’ of heavy anchor chain. During the night we had wind gusts up to 40 knots but only about 6” of fetch on the water. It then blew consistently between 25 and 35 knots through Sunday 10th and Monday 11th.

Not even 30 knots of wind and a strong current could stop Iza from getting out in the kayak. In a strong current we rig a catch line and float behind the boat for kayaking, swimming or diving.

12th January 2010

The wind has finally settled and it’s a glorious Exuma day. Time to check out the diving gear and use the opportunity to clean the props, change the prop zincs and clean off some more of that accumulated ICW gunk from the hull. Then it's off east towards Turks and Caicos.





      Leaf Cay, Exumas to Long Cay, Crooked Island    

12 to 13 January 2010

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Almost a smiley! A wayward sail batten to be fixed.




Set off from Leaf Cay around 3pm heading for the Turks and Caicos, knowing that if we had any problems, we had the alternatives of Conception Island, Long Island and the Crooked/Acklins group.

During the night, when the wind picked up a little and we could sail, the autopilot decided not to hold course. As we rounded Cape Santa Maria at the north point of Long Island, the wind really picked up as did the seas. We were now hand steering is less than comfortable conditions. It was also extremely dark with no moon and significant cloud cover.

Daylight at last and we’re both a bit tired hand-steering through the night with no external references, a compass light that we realised had not been connected to our new mast head lights so using a compass illuminated by torch and really heavy seas. Add to that a couple of very large container ships that popped up on our Automatic Identification System using the passage down the east side of Long Island that were still going to be close. But we coped and it was good experience in handling the boat. 

During the trip we overheard snippets of VHF conversation regarding a Tsunami warning. We had seen no official warning and had no idea of the cause or where or when this might occur.

Later on we received an email from our CruiseEmail our Single Side Band Radio email ISP asking for anyone in the locality of Haiti to act as Single Side Band Radio relay for rescue services. We are too far way to assist.

We had two fishing lines out pretty much all daylight hours since leaving Fort Lauderdale, but as we sailed down the east coast of Long Island, we caught our first fish, a small Skipjack Tuna. You would think Iza had won the lottery!

So we continued on towards Long Cay, Crooked Island.


First catch of the trip. Skipjack Tuna.

Skipjack Tuna.

      Crooked Island - Long Cay    

13 - 14 January 2010



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Today's smiley! Compass swinging at Long Cay.




Crept into the ample anchorage west of Long Cay in the Crooked/Acklins Bight in the pitch dark around 8pm on 13th. The new radar is great. With that overlaid on the chart in the chartplotter, we knew exactly where we were.

And fresh fish for dinner! We made our habitual toast to the fish as we usually do before enjoying.

On 14th, we decided to do a complete re-calibration of the autopilot course computer which is a replacement for the one zapped in the lightning strike.

The anchorage area behind Long Cay is enormous and protected so the repeated motoring in circles required for the compass swing were easy.

All the figures came up right. No large metal objects near the compass so all seemed fine. However, we decided not to head for Turks and Caicos immediately, but to motor down the Crooked Island chain to re-visit a favourite previous anchorage between the small Fish Cay and Guana Cay. (This is where our prop problems began on Dream On in 2006).



      Crooked Island - Fish Cay    

14 - 15 January 2010

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Dreaming On in her natural environment at Fish Cay, Crooked island.

Today's smiley! See the tension on entering Fish Cay!



As we set off for Fish Cay, we realised that the autopilot was still not holding course despite our calibration efforts. What had changed between the trip across the Gulfstream and through to Leaf Cay and the following trip?

Then the light dawned. We have a wireless remote for the autopilot. In the previous installation, (prior to the lightning strike), the autopilot worked whether this remote was switched on or not. However, due to the lightning strike damage, we had just bought and installed a new remote, and placed the transmitter in a better location. For reasons we still don’t understand, its new position in the daisy chain wiring sequence seems to have elevated its status to that of master control. So as long as the remote is on, everything works. It had been on for all the motoring we had done from Fort Lauderdale to Leaf Cay when we had used it during the more intricate channels. When sailing, in open water from Leaf Cay, we decided we did not need it, but had not connected the dots……!   So autopilot problem solved.

Anyway, to return to Fish Cay.

Fish Cay is the one with Iguanas but no fish. Guana Cay is the one with Fish but no Iguanas!   Go figure…?

There is a very strong current through the deep cut between these cays, and the entry is an intricate mix of coral heads and sand banks to reach the deep water. Definitely an entry with good light and the sun behind but well worth the effort.

Another beautiful Bahama day. We kayaked ashore in blue, blue water to Fish Cay for a walk along the white sand beach. That night, the anchor chain started to make weird noises and despite several attempts to adjust the amount of chain, it continued through the night. It sounded like the chain was sawing through the hull but we had checked this was not the case.

Left Fish Cay on 15th to head for Turks and Caicos. As we hauled up the anchor at Fish Cay on 15th, we found our noise source. A large lump of dead coral attached to the chain. The noise of the movement of the coral on the chain had been transmitted up the chain and into the boat.










      Acklins Island - Datum Bay    

15 - 18 January 2010

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An early morning ride up the mast to fix lazyjacks.

Looking for the fish that did not make the dinner table!

The lighthouse at Castle Island, SE corner of Acklins.

Today's smiley! Rounding Castle Island, off Acklins Island.


Headed out to sea with a fairly brisk wind in the 20 knot region, planning an overnight passage to Turks and Caicos, a 130 nautical mile journey. However… As we raised the main sail, the starboard lazyjacks broke. (The small lines from the mast that hold up the blue stackpack in which the sail is stowed on the boom). As we had the sail reefed due to the strong wind and expected gusts, the lower, unused portion of the sail which would normally be securely stowed in the stackpack was hanging out off the boom over the starboard deck. No way to go to Turks and Caicos like this, so we pulled into Datum Bay at the south end of Acklins Island for repairs.

We decided to stay overnight as the wind was too strong to climb the mast, fix the lazyjacks and re-stack the sail.

Caught our second fish of the trip at around 7pm while anchored in Datum Bay; a Great Trevally, good eating. He was served as gujons within an hour.

Explored the beach by kayak, narrow sandy beach edged with rocks.  Over the rise inland, a very large mangrove lined lake dotted with many bright pink flamingoes.

Stayed a second night as the wind really picked up again ahead of a cold front, so a lazy day catching up with jobs.

Caught a Crevalle jack at around 7pm. Fresh fish for dinner again.

We are anchored just off some small reefs and not far from deeper water, so lots of activity, including the usual resident barracuda. Barracuda are lazy, they always arrive and sit under the boat like a security guard. What they area really waiting for is for the fisherman to do all the work and entice a juicy meal onto the hook, which the barracuda will then go and snatch. Very often we lose hooks and half a fish to a barracuda.

Getting into the new routines; a little bit of daily maintenance, followed by kayaking, beachcombing, and fishing for supper.

Still the wind blew and to fix the lazyjacks, we need to raise the sail, so waited in Datum Bay for another day. The on 17th we awoke to a very calm sea and no wind. So a 7am ride up the mast to run a new lazyjack line through the mast and re-rig the starboard lazyjacks. All done by 8.30.

With the calm weather projected for the next couple of days, we decided to re-visit another favourite and rarely visited spot, Hogsty Reef, about 45 miles away.



Great Trevally


Geoff weaving again! Fixing lazyjacks.


New starboard lazyjacks.

      Hogsty Reef    
  18 - 19 January 2010

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Mahi-mahi. Yummy!







No wind, so we motored the 45 miles to Hogsty Reef, which we last visited onboard Dream On in 2006.

Hogsty Reef is a coral atoll, the only one in the northern Caribbean. It rises from depths of 6,000'. It is horseshoe shaped, around 3 miles long and 2 miles wide, with a very low fringing reef which gives little protection to the waters inside. Depths inside the reef are around 25' with many coral heads. So anchoring here is confined to calm weather, and when anchored, you are in the middle of the Ocean, 50 miles from the nearest land. When anchored alone, it is quite eerie knowing you are the only boat in 2,500 square miles of ocean.

And we were the only boat. Not unusual as very few boats visit, it is off the usual path and requires a sense of adventure and self sufficiency.

There are two wrecks here. The main one being that of a WWll liberty ship on the northern side that went seriously aground it the 1960's and is the main landmark for the reef. The other is a smaller cargo vessel on the south side.

When approaching the reef, the two small sand cays that mark the south west facing entrance cannot be seen until quite close in, so the wrecks are the first clues.

As we approached Hogsty, we had one of those really satisfying hits on one fishing line, when the line literally screams out of the reel. We cut the speed then Iza started to reel in. It was a medium size Mahi-mahi and put up quite a fight. But Iza won and this is one of our favourite fish. So fresh Mahi-mahi for supper.

Since our visit in 2006 and the entry in our website, we have become one of the main search hits for Hogsty Reef as so little is written about it. A recent enquiry was from a gentleman in the US who is writing a history on the Liberty Ships, which were built very quickly and simply during WWll as emergency supply ships and never meant to be esthetically pleasing or last long. Many were built in Brunswick, Georgia, Dream On's home for a while.

Anyhow on our previous trip we took Dream On in close to the wreck inside the reef to have a look and take photos. On this occasion, we went around the outside of the reef to look at the wreck from a different viewpoint.

We have written our glowing reports on our Automatic Identification System since installing it first in Guatemala. Imagine our surprise having spent a quiet night anchored in Hogsty Reef and just about ready to haul up the anchor when the AIS Dangerous Target alarm goes off. Turned out to be a very smart 150' mega-yacht called "Elle" (wonder if that's Elle McPherson?).

She showed on the AIS as being en route to West Palm Beach in Florida, was coming in from the southeast and completely hidden from view in the bright early morning sunshine. She did a circuit of the south side of the reef and pulled in to the western edge and anchored as we left.


Liberty ship wreck at Hogsty Reef.



Looking back at Hogsty Reef.

      Little Inagua    
  19 - 22 January 2010

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An area we had not visited previously was the Inagua Islands. The most southerly of the Bahamas. Actually situated further south than the Turks and Caicos. Little Inagua sounded worth a visit as is exactly half way between Hogsty Reef and the Turks and Caicos. So, still with some time on our hands and mild weather, we decided to head for the only anchorage which is on the southwest corner.

Had some wind after leaving Hogsty Reef but the direction was not good for us to make the essential daylight anchoring at Little Inagua, so motored in fairly calm water, 45 miles arriving at 4 o'clock. Perfect timing to enter a western anchorage with the afternoon sun behind us so we could see the coral heads.

Having not had any fishing interest all day, just as we approached the island, the fishing line went wild, but this time it was a barracuda who eventually broke away from the line and much to Iza's dismay took one of her favourite lures with him. Barracuda cannot be eaten here because of the risk of poisoning, so we really don't want to see them on our lines.

There is little information on Little Inagua, but this anchorage has one of the nicest beaches we have seen on this trip, with some small sandstone cliffs. Yet another beautiful, off the beaten track, rarely visited hidden gem.

There is a story of some cruisers here in 1992 who set up camp on the fantastic beach. They were soon visited by some South American gentlemen, (undoubtedly involved in the drug trade), armed to the teeth who confiscated the cruisers' camera. removed the film, put in a new film and took pictures of the disgruntled cruisers, then told them to leave the island leaving behind their camera and camping equipment. Apparently quite a few of the more remote and mostly uninhabited islands in the Bahamas have been used as drug conduits into the US.

We have seen no sign of anyone on the island, but we are here just after the major earthquake and humanitarian disaster in Haiti, not too far away, so are probably more likely to see refugee boats from Haiti heading for the southern Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.








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Turks and Caicos Islands












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