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Far Bahamas

  Hogsty Reef French Wells Fish Cays   Landrail Point

From West Caicos to Hogsty Reef
10 May 2006




Motor sailed overnight from Turks & Caicos to Hogsty Reef due to lack of wind, arriving at 10.30am.

Hogsty Reef is one of only three true coral atolls in the northern Atlantic. It could be said that it is shaped like an animal  corral, hence the name. It is oval in shape, surrounded by low reefs, mainly underwater at high tide, with two small islands north and south of the only entrance on the west side. There are two visible wrecks here, but no doubt many more ships have succumbed to the hidden jagged coral before the days of GPS.

The two visible wrecks are the only things that can be seen of the reef on initial approach. One of these is a WW2 liberty ship, wrecked in 1963 and from a distance looks like an intact ship heading on a course of 142į.

It is an amazing place. Inside is turquoise water, 25 feet deep over white sand. Outside a sheer drop to over 6,000 feet. The reef is approximately 5 miles east to west and 3 miles north to south. It provides a very large secure anchorage in settled weather, but it could be very dangerous to be caught here in bad weather.

It is a very strange feeling to be anchored in the middle of the ocean.

In settled weather with more people on board for assistance and safety and this would be a fantastic dive site.

Meanwhile it is a great fishing and snorkeling area, with a little beachcombing on the two small islands. We moved Dream On to a different anchorage each night and sometimes during the day. Often, while moving around, we saw loggerhead turtles just floating on the surface. They would dive as soon as we came close. On one occasion, we were fishing from the dinghy, using a bucket with a see through bottom to spot dinner, when we were very closely visited by a 5' shark! We figured he would get whatever we caught so moved to a different reef area. Within 10 minutes a smaller 4' shark turned up and he came really close to the dinghy, (with inflatable buoyancy tubes!). A few minutes later we saw a large loggerhead turtle floating on the surface 40 feet from the dinghy. We expected him to dive as soon as he saw us, but no, he swam on the surface right over to the dinghy until he actually touched it to check for any edible barnacles underneath, gave us a cursory look then leisurely dived. We were able to watch him through our bucket for a while.

There were two more yachts there for our first two nights, but we were on our own for the final night. We were also visited twice by US Coast Guard helicopters who patrol the southern Bahamas for drug smugglers and once by an old US registered Grumman Albatross amphibian.

On our final day a US Coast Guard cutter appeared. We thought we were in for a check but they anchored of Northwest Cay and used the small beach there as a Sunday R & R crew break, with a small boat running a ferry service from the cutter to the beach all day.

A homing pigeon decided to take a rest on Dream On on the afternoon  before we left. It drank and ate and then continued its journey.

We left Hogsty Reef on 14th May at 9pm for a night sail to the Crooked Island area. The wind was supposed to be fairly light but we soon had 24 knots, the boat reaching over 8 knots at one point. This would have brought us into the Crooked Island area too early, so we adjusted sails to slow her down for a daylight arrival.

South Cay

15 May


The banks between Crooked and Acklins Islands and Long Cay which make up the Crooked Island group, are very shallow, so we headed up the west coast in deep water to anchor at South Cay, arriving at 8am on 15th May. We were anchored in a deep channel on the banks with very shallow sand banks around us just south of South Cay, but still very exposed to any weather, sea or wind.

There was still quite a strong breeze and also a heavy tidal current on and off the banks. Nevertheless, Iza headed to shore by kayak. Just as she reached really shallow water she met a shark and just to add to the excitement had to step out of the grounded kayak a few moments later to walk ashore!

Our weather guru had advised us of some nasty weather coming our way with squalls and clocking winds. South Cay was not the place to be.


French Wells, Crooked Island

16 May




Moved to French Wells, named after a well that was discovered at the southern end of Crooked Island. French Wells anchorage is a channel onto the banks that winds through very shallow sand. The entrance is very intricate between coral heads and sand bars and is not for the faint of heart. We probably only had a few inches of depth to spare at some points.

Once inside it is deep and fairly well protected. However as with most channels leading to and from shallow banks, there is a very strong current. This is fine as long as there is no wind and there is room to put out plenty of chain. Luckily, we had the space to put out over 100' of anchor chain, but when there is a strong wind opposing the current, this pushes the boat forward well over the anchor or at right angles to the anchor. Anchors were not designed for that treatment. That's when you realise it's not the anchor that's keeping you there, it's the chain!

We rode out some pretty heavy winds at French Wells with the boat at all kinds of strange angles to the anchor and never dragged.

During breaks in the weather, we explored two fascinating mangrove creeks through Crooked Island. One of these is 10 miles long and goes right through the island. It took us a while to find the entrance by dinghy and went a couple of miles up the fairly wide channel. The other was narrow, quiet and a definite kayak creek. It was mostly around 20 feet wide with mangroves and white sand at the entrance then mangrove and limestone rocks further in. There were many fish in here including a small shark.

During this trip we found a small grove of coconut palms. These had not been harvested for years as the bases of the trees were surrounded by piles of rotting coconuts. We used these for target practice on the ripe ones still attached to the trees and after an hour, managed to fell two. These were later opened on the beach.

Around the corner from French Wells, on the west side of Crooked Island is a fabulous beach. This area is still remote with very few cruisers coming this far south. It is unspoiled and quiet. However above the beach some past cruisers with time on their hands have built a series of cairns out of limestone blocks. Some lead to the well. Another is a site for cruisers to leave engraved limestone blocks with their boat name and date of visit, with a barbecue pit alongside.

Also on the south side of Crooked Island is the site of an old British fortification. The site is overgrown but an old rusty cannon barrel lies on the shoreline.

Fish Cays including Guana Cays

20 May 2006




Still some rain and heavy clouds around as we are now in the squally weather period which comes between the cold front passages of the winter and the tropical influences of the summer. We have seen some squalls with waterspouts. Now those you donít want to see too closely!

Moved from French Wells, south again to Fish Cays, a distance of around 25 miles.

Fish Cay and neighbouring Guana Cays are on the shallow banks which link Crooked Island, Long Cay and Acklins Island. Both are uninhabited. Fish Cay is reported to have iguanas, but no fish. Guana Cays are reported to have fish and no iguanas! 

We anchored in the channel between Fish Cay and Guana Cays, where the sea runs off the banks on the ebb tide and back in on the rising tide resulting in a very strong current. Strong currents nearly always have a worse effect on anchors than winds.

We explored Fish Cay, probably around 2 miles in circumference with a beautiful white sand beach on the west side and shallow mangrove on the eastern shore. On the southwest tip is a long sand bar of pure white sand curving out into the turquoise water. We were anchored close to this sand bar. We found several iguanas. Not as greedy or as used to humans as those on Allen's Cay in the Exumas and these are also smaller and not as brightly coloured. They still look just as prehistoric.

Explored the 4 small Guana Cays and also Wood Cay just to the south. These cays are all smaller than Fish Cay, but each has its charm. The waters between them carried strong currents and many different water colours with the changes of depth.

We found no iguanas on Guana Cays, but saw plenty of fish. There were also a number of stingrays ďhooveringĒ the sand for edibles.

Went ashore to the white sand bar on Fish Cay to do some outboard maintenance and clean some collected shells and coral.

Later on we moved Dream On out of the channel towards the west and open water to find coral heads for fishing and less current. Anchored and dropped back on the chain until Dream Onís stern was overhanging the reef. Caught one fish for supper. Also while manoeuvring, noticed a nasty vibration in the transmission and reverberating through the steering.

Donned our diving gear to have a look at the propeller. Although we are not too sure of the mechanics of the feathering Maxprop that we have fitted, it seemed that is was not holding its pitch setting, hence the vibration. So, we decided to remove this underwater, knowing that we had a spare prop on board. In any case we could not have gone anywhere with that vibration.

The Maxprop does not come off in one piece. In fact there are many pieces, some of which are extremely small. We arranged lines under the boat to hang onto in case of a current, and carried all our tools in a bucket under the water. Iza with fins so she could move around, Geoff without so he could wrap his legs around the rudder to hold still while removing the bits. We managed to remove most of the prop except for the hub that was firmly stuck on the tapered shaft. We tried all manner of persuasion, but no luck.

Planned to sail without the prop to Landrail Point, the only real settlement on Crooked Island to see if we could find a prop puller. However, there was no wind. A couple of squalls blew through. Iza went off reef fishing from the dinghy, for a total of eight hours!!!

Landrail Point, Crooked Island

May 26 to 30 2006





Sailed to Landrail Point, (30 miles) with no propeller so no power and no brakes! Started with 12 knots of perfect wind, then that died to 3 knots. 1 hour later we were skirting the edge of a squall with 23 knots of wind and sailing at over 8 knots! Then that died and we had a whole lot of tacking to do to get into the bay off Landrail Point, arriving there at just over 1 knot in a barely noticeable breeze and finding anchorage between a few other boats there.

Lots of rain = lots of mosquitoes!! Anchored on the west lee shore, with wind blowing off the land, the mosquitoes find their way to boats at anchor, and with a vengeance!

Tried a home-made prop puller but no luck. Went ashore to find one. Discovered that the island is Seventh Day Adventist so Saturday is the Sabbath. Everything closed. However, in the small dinghy basin we found a crew member off a private yacht who loaned us a prop puller and we successfully removed the prop hub.

Then when we fitted the replacement prop, we found that there was no hole in the shaft for a split pin to hold a prop nut securely and no locking nut. We knew that if we used only the holding nut from the Maxprop, we would be fine in forward gear but could not risk reverse. So we went ashore to try to find a locking nut. We found some local help and searched garages, old car dumps, old outboards for anything that would fit. No luck!


On Sunday we tried again for nuts. Still no luck. Shopped in the local small grocery store with very limited stock and visited Marina Gibsonís Lunch Room. This little cafť has been there since 1962 and is the local meeting place. Marina has visitorís books going back to the 60ís. As there is only one small resort on the island, most of her visitors have been off boats.


On Monday we tried Pittstown Resort for nuts. They are building a new marina and some townhouses so we thought they might have something, but again, no luck! The resort has a few cottages and an airstrip right in the middle, so most of the visitors and potential plot purchasers when they expand are pilots who can fly their own aircraft to their front door.

We fixed the prop on with the existing Maxprop nut then locked that with a hose clip over a piece of hose. A bit basic, but it seemed to work. It should hold provided we donít reverse!

Everyone at Landrail Point, from residents to crews on visiting yachts, seemed to know of our plight and all were extremely helpful. We would have been happy to spend much longer in Crooked Island and we hope to visit again next season.

Left Landrail Point on Tuesday, 30 May and motored, (no wind again), to Clarence Town, Long Island.

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Link to Hogsty Reef & Crooked Islands - Photos













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