Bahamas Southbound

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Bahamas Southbound
Nassau Shroud Cay Warderick Wells George Town

From Fort Lauderdale, Florida across the Bahama Banks

31 March 2006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday 31st March. We left Lake Sylvia, picked up fuel, made the 9 am opening of the SW17th Causeway bridge, motored past the cruise ship docks and left the USA through the Port Everglades inlet. Started by sailing SSE to achieve as much southerly distance as possible before hitting the Gulf Stream, which was approximately 10 miles offshore. We were making a respectable 6 knots in fairly light winds with around 3’-5’ seas.

 

Our speed dropped to around 3 knots when we found the northerly flow of the Gulf Stream. By this time we were off south Miami. We tried to find a point of sail, slightly north of East to cross the stream and our speed over ground increased to 9-10 knots, but we were being taken too far north, so had to drop the sails and motor across at right angles. Even then, we still arrived north of our entry point onto the banks and had to turn SE again once clear of the stream.

 

We entered the Bahama Banks at night, slightly un-nerving as the light on the rock marking the entry was not working. However, we made it through safely by using the radar to identify the rock’s location and distance and motored until 10am Saturday morning. The banks were amazing. No wind, sea absolutely calm, crystal clear turquoise over white sand. We pulled clear of the channel for a rest and anchored in 20 feet, with no land in sight. Geoff had his first swim of the season.

 

Around midday while we were trying to catch some sleep, we were woken by a small bird hovering over us in our cabin. It looked like a finch of some variety. The bird seemed totally unafraid of us. He explored the boat, flew off a couple of times, then returned and explored some more. With no land in sight we had no idea where he came from. He seemed to be looking for a quiet place on board. Later, we were concerned that we did not scare him into flying off into the dark. But, he settled somewhere quiet in the main cabin.

 

We stopped once more just before the NW Channel Light where the banks meet the Tongue of the Ocean, (from 20 foot depths to 9,000!), as there are underwater rocks that cannot be seen at night each side of this narrow channel. We left again early on Sunday morning and motored yet again on a totally flat sea to Nassau, 45 miles away.

 

Soon after we entered the Tongue of the Ocean, we heard of a whale sighting through the radio. We kept watch and a short time later, we realised that what we thought were very large dolphins in the distance were some kind of whale. We moved quietly towards them, then cut the engine and drifted close by. We now understand that these were pilot whales. There were around 10 in total and probably 15-18 feet long.

 

Also before reaching Nassau, we heard someone calling a boat called “Mumba.” We met Harold, the owner of Mumba in Fort Lauderdale in 2004, when he was painting the bottom of his boat next to us on the hard. Harold was then 84! He told us that his wife didn’t sail, so every year he went off solo, down to George Town in the Exumas, (Bahamas), for three to four months. We then met him again in the Exumas in March 2005 as we were heading south and he was on his way north.

 

Anyhow, having assumed from the radio call that Mumba was in the area, we kept a look out. Within an hour we passed her, so we gave Harold a call. It turns out he had to leave George Town early due to a knee injury and although we wished him well and said we would look out for him next year, he says that his wife and children are pressurizing him to stop. He must be 86!

Nassau, New Providence Island

 

The first sight of New Providence Island and Nassau is the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island which forms the northern bank of Nassau Harbour. The harbour is very busy with cruise ships, other commercial craft and many private yachts. Inside the harbour are the exclusive marinas of the Atlantis Resort and Hurricane Hole, adorned with very expensive mega-yachts for the mega-rich. The harbour also has some interesting currents, sand bars, tour boats, ferries, jet-skis and crazy local fisherman who only know the “Throttle wide open” position.

Every boat entering Nassau Harbour has to call Harbour Control to obtain permission to enter and provide details of the boat and destination within the harbour. The same applies when leaving the harbour. Entering marinas there is a challenge due to the strong currents and wash from passing boats. We night-stopped on Sunday 2nd April at Nassau Yacht Haven to clear customs and immigration. Within half an hour of our arrival, two officials from customs & Immigration came to the boat, despite it being Sunday afternoon, for a no fuss clearance.

Midday on Monday, we staged out to nearby Athol Island, just outside Nassau Harbour, ready for an early start on Tuesday for our 40 mile run to The Exumas.

Shroud Cay, Exumas

4 to 7 April 2006

 

 

A very light easterly/southeasterly wind meant another day of motoring as we headed SE to The Exumas. Calm, clear, turquoise water all the way over the banks, usually around 20 feet deep. We anchored on the west side of Shroud Cay. What a find!

Shroud Cay is an archipelago of small islands interlaced with fascinating mangrove creeks winding around what at one time would have been a fantastic lagoon. There are many juvenile fish in the creeks and the beaches on the eastern Exuma Sound shoreline are some of the best we have seen. It would be easy to spend a couple of weeks at Shroud. This area is included in the Exuma Land & Sea Park, so is a "No take zone." No fishing, no conching, no lobsters.

We kayaked through many of the creeks, but still have to return to complete those we missed. The picture on the left shows one of the creeks that starts on the banks on the western shore and emerges here into Exuma Sound. It's quite a paddle, but worth every minute!

Although we could have stayed longer, we decided to move further south as there was some squally weather due, so on Friday We had stayed in touch with Phil & Judy on their catamaran "Take Two" whom we met in Spanish Wells and the Abacos last year. We knew they were well ahead of us and heading north from George Town. We managed to exchange a couple of emails to see if we could meet up in the Exumas. By total coincidence, they and we both decided to use the same anchorage to intercept each other and arrived there an hour apart. It was great to hear them call Dream On on the VHF as we have been sadly lacking any radio contact on this trip so far.

Having established by radio that we were both heading for the same anchorage at Warderick Wells, just outside Exuma Park headquarters, Phil & Judy were waiting with dinner when we arrived. It was great to see them.

Warderick Wells, Exuma Park

8 April 2006

How wonderful to be back within VHF range of Exuma Park. We could hear Judy's familiar voice over the radio, efficiently handling the daily mooring assignments. After saying goodbye to Phil & Judy and "Take Two" on Saturday morning as they headed north, we called Judy and were lucky enough to be allocated a mooring buoy in the park. We  also timed our arrival with the weekly social gathering around the bonfire on the beach and met some of our fellow cruisers visiting Exuma Park.

Unfortunately, Adam & Louise were not able to fly out and join us as hoped, so time to move further south. A nasty batch of weather blew through most of the Bahamas during the week, so we stayed at Exuma Park, while Geoff completed a few more jobs on Dream On and Iza volunteered in the park.

We were persuaded to stay long enough to enjoy the annual Easter pot luck buffet lunch at the park accommodation. Around 50 cruisers there and a fantastic array of food, the centre of which was an enormous ham supplied by the park.

George Town, Great Exuma Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally departed Warderick Wells on Monday 17th April and headed south across the banks to Fowl Cay at Dundas Rocks, still within the park boundaries so still in a no fishing area. There are caves here for snorkeling, but we decided to do that another day, so anchored there overnight.

The following morning, we left through the cut out into the deep Exuma Sound and spend a few hours fishing, not catching, before turning into Pipe Creek, one of our favourite stops from last season and anchored by Joe Cay.

More fishing from the boat while anchored at Joe Cay, but still no catching. When you have to fish, fish in comfort!

When we left Joe Cay, we decided to take the channel down through Pipe Creek. Full of sand bars with the shallow depth alarm ringing most of the way. We grounded once on sand but were able to reverse out easily and take another route. Once south of Thomas Cay we exited into Exuma Sound through the cut between Thomas and Over Yonder Cays. This was very narrow, with very strong current but with deep clear water.

We had thought we might make George Town from Pipe Creek, but the wind failed us so we had a steady motor at 5 knots on calm sea with two lines out. Caught a cero mackerel, quite small but a good lunch.

A cruiser we had met along the way told us that the Four Seasons Resort on a head of land at the beginning of Great Exuma Island, had now opened its marina with five star facilities. The Marina at Emerald Bay. Not quite the introductory price we had been told but we just had to take a look before hitting George Town harbour.

Although still work in progress, this marina will be something special. Very large, with first class facilities, luxurious captain's lounge, free coffee, orange juice, Danish pastries and muffins for breakfast. Free wi-fi internet at the boat. Free laundry. Free shuttle to the very good grocery just up the road. Free use of the Four Seasons resorts gym and beach.

Also, the marina was close to the airport where we were expecting a replacement boom vang to be delivered. We arrived in the marina at 1.30pm on 20th. The boom vang arrived in Fort Lauderdale at 11.00am the same day, was on a flight at 1.00pm, in George Town by 2.30pm cleared from customs and on the boat by 4.00pm. Pretty efficient. Thanks to John & Mikki Powers in Vero Beach for coordinating all of that.

We met up with Larry & Dorothy Thompson on board their trawler "Changes in Attitudes" in the marina. They were next to us in the mooring field in Exuma Park.

21st April, we are full of fuel, full of water, have visited the grocery and ready to move into George Town harbour. We also arranged a curiosity visit to the condos and penthouses being built in this superb development around the marina, starting at a mere $1.2 million plus!

Chose a bad day to move. Although only 8 miles down the coast of Great Exuma Island to Elizabeth Harbour, George Town, the sea was rough and both wind and sea were right on our bow. Our main GPS also failed on this trip. We used a handheld GPS to assist in finding the complicated route into the harbour avoiding the many shoals.

Not too many boats in the harbour, (10 miles long, 1 mile wide), probably around 150-200 boats.. As we reported in our first visit to George Town last season, the big harbour bounded by Great Exuma to the south and Stocking Island to the north, has many good anchorages and beaches, plus good access to some fantastic beaches on the Atlantic side of Stocking Island. It is an extremely social place with many cruisers spending the whole season here. It's a little too much for us so we want to move on to Conception and Turks & Caicos.

But first, there is the George Town Family Regatta. Many islands send in locally  built sailing boats in three classes for this major event. These boats have enormous traditional canvas sails that are extremely heavy and difficult to manage. Each boat has more crew than it appears there is space for and they look very unstable. Instead of trapezes for crew to balance a healing boat, they use a plank. This plank then has to be deftly maneuvered across the boat during a tack.

We waited in George Town to watch the first day of races before heading off to Conception.

 

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