Archive for the ‘Near Bahamas’ Category

As our time in the Bahamas for this season winds down, we find ourselves island hopping north and west through the Abacos, Dawn and Paul of Bubu 3 our guides as they’ve spent most of the season exploring these northern islands.  It’s been nice to get a little more remote, exploring beaches, swimming in the amazingly clear waters.

Manjack Cay is one that certainly makes our “we’ll- come- back- here list”, full of wide well-marked hiking trails to a number of gorgeous beaches.

Allans-Pensacola also makes the list.  Although the trail is more overgrown (machete for next visit?), the beach is well worth the seeking.  The four of us plus Kimba had the beach to ourselves this morning, though the Signing Tree offers evidence that many cruisers have come before us.  Kind of a collaborative, evolutionary art installation comprised mostly of beach-found objects.  A mama plover and her chick were quite elusive, and challenging to photograph against the coral rock, but I managed to get one good photo.

Tomorrow we’ll sail west, aiming for Great Sale Cay where we’ll lay over for a day of rest and preparation.  Weather permitting, we’ll depart Wednesday morning bound for home.

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After a brief stop in Marsh Harbor (relatively big city, lots of traffic, not a favorite) to do some provisioning and hit an international ATM, we headed for Green Turtle Cay.  We spent a day anchored off New Plymouth, the settlement on the cay, and found it a lovely place to wander about.  The town was charming and colorful, with streets seemingly sized for the ubiquitous golf carts.  We opted however to explore on foot.  Tucked into a bit of land in the middle of the settlement we found the Loyalist Memorial Sculpture Garden; the main piece was quite interesting, depicting a pair of girls, one black, one white, one holding a conch shell, the other a Union Jack.  Surrounding them were a collection of bronze busts of some of the key figures in the settlement of the Abacos, Loyalists who fled the US in the time of the American Revolution.

We managed to find the road out of town that eventually turned to sand and finally ending at Gillam Beach which was quite picturesque.  I was surprised to find a Yellow-crowned Night Heron, usually a nocturnal creature, also out for a stroll along the shoreline.

Food highlights were BBQ night at Harvey’s Island Grill (jerk ribs) and breakfast the following morning at the Plymouth Rock Cafe & Liquor Store.  Yes, the Captain insisted he could not miss an opportunity to combine two of his favorite things, breakfast and liquor stores.  Indeed, their breakfast sandwiches are very tasty.

With a bit of weather coming in, we opted to move, seeking a bit more shelter in nearby White Sound where we also reconnected with Dawn and Paul aboard s/v Bubu 3.  Green Turtle Club and Marina turned out to be a fine place to do a bit of laundry and grab a bit of free wifi.  We met Dawn and Paul at Bluff House Beach Resort for rum drinks and snacks at the Tranquil Turtle Beach Bar (not to be confused with the Tipsy Turtle at Green Turtle Club), followed by a decent pizza/salad dinner at the restaurant.

We could hang around Green Turtle for a bit longer, maybe even see a turtle, but not this pass though.  More recon to do.  From here we’ll start to get a little further flung, more beaches, fewer beach bars… we’ll see about the wifi.

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Hope Town

When we started this grand Bahamas 2015 adventure, our loose plan was to drop down into the Exumas as far as George Town, then work our way back north, ending up in the Abacos towards the end of the season when it was a bit warmer.  It was a fine plan, until we found ourselves in Spanish Wells on the north end of Eleuthera with about two weeks until our 90-day visas run out.  We could, and many do, request an extension of 30 more days.  The other issue though is that our insurance mandates we be north of Florida by the beginning of June for hurricane season, so we now have two reasons to be getting north.  So, we’re currently on what I’m referring to as a 2-week reconnaissance trip, taking notes for another year.

We moved out of Spanish Wells and staged overnight at Egg Island for an early departure the following morning and made good time under sail across Northeast Providence Channel, ducking inside at Little Harbor, Great Abaco Island.  We took a mooring in Little Harbour proper and spent the late afternoon/early evening checking out Pete’s Pub and the adjacent sculpture gallery.  There’s a bit of history in this place.  Find a dated but interesting Mother Earth News piece on sculptor Randolph Johnston here.  He left a quite comfy life to move to the islands and pursue his art, eventually building a foundry here.  Alas Randolph is since deceased, but the foundry is still active today; we’d hoped to catch a tour but their apparently working frantically on a piece commissioned for the Nassau airport, so no tours for a bit.  The gallery was impressive though.  Randolph’s son, Pete opened the nearby Pete’s Pub which was a quite pleasant place for a dinner and drinks.  Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera ashore, so no photos.

Moving on north, our next stop of consequence was Hope Town on Elbow Cay where we’d spent three nights on a mooring, catching up with Lisa and Alex of s/v Tiki Trek who we’d met last fall in St Augustine.  Food/beverage highlights included a couple of visits to Wine Down Sip Sip, once for flatbread pizza happy hour, incl wine from a bottle, and back the following night for a rum tasting;  take-a-way from Papa’s Nasty’s BBQ aboard Cheshire one evening; and a bicycle exploration of Elbow Cay including a brunch/lunch stop at the Abaco Inn.

The real highlight of Hope Town though is the Elbow Reef Lighthouse, rumored to be the most photographed lighthouse in the Bahamas… though to be truthful, there aren’t many.  This candy-cane striped tower is a beauty though.  Initially erected in 1864 by the British Imperial Lighthouse Service, this tower was not popular with the locals, many of whom made their livings scavenging the many wrecks in the surrounding waters.  It underwent a major refit in 1936 and still operates in much the same way today, without electricity, one of only two lighthouses in the Bahamas that has escaped automation.  A hand pump is used to pressurize the kerosene and  rotation is driven much like a giant grandfather clock, requiring a keeper to wind up the weights every two hours.  Find an interesting bit on the wrecking history of the area, in addition to the history of the lighthouse here.

And then there’s the view from the top…

panoramic view from Elbow Reef Lighthouse

panoramic view from Elbow Reef Lighthouse

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Working our way east, we tucked into West Bay, a well protected anchorage on the far west end of New Providence Island. Nassau, of cruise ship fame and the capital of the Bahamas, is on the northeast corner of New Providence. Our original plan was to stay for a few days, sort out something with BaTelCo for a phone/wifi access, do a bit more provisioning, a little exploring and then move on. Shortly after our arrival though sorted out a plan for Duncan to join us for a couple of weeks as we work our way down through the Exumas to Georgetown. We decided to stay put until after his arrival. Turned out we’ve stayed plenty busy.

West Bay was a great anchorage. We ferried our bikes ashore a few times, which turned out to be very handy… once we got the hang of riding on the left side of the road… which also made roundabouts more than a little confusing. We pedaled into an area called Old Fort Bay a couple of times for visits to BaTelCo and a nice grocery called Solomon’s Fresh Market.

Another day was spent exploring the Clifton Heritage National Park. It’s a decent sized park, including ruins from the plantation era, slaves quarters, etc. I was especially captivated by an art display near the water; artist Antonius Roberts created a tribute to African slaves composed of casuarina sculptures. Some ancient stone steps through the rocks down to the water were well worn, a major access point to and from the ships that carried these slaves and other cargo. A hike back around the shoreline offered some great views of the water. Apparently there are also some underwater sculptures just off shore as well; we saw a few tour boats of snorkelers come and go, despite the fact that it was a quite windy day, not ideal for snorkeling.

Having exhausted our entertainment options on the west end of the island, we once again ferried bikes ashore and pedaled into Lyford Cay (apparently a pretty upscale enclave), locked our bikes up at the police station there and caught a bus into downtown Nassau. About a block from where the buses let out, we stumbled upon a Ministry of Tourism office where we picked up a map of Nassau… very helpful, and learned that there is no map of the bus system because the routes change so frequently. Not so helpful.

We visited the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas ($5/person despite the clearly marked sign above the cashier’s head that stated $10/person, go figure). Next stop was the John Watling’s Distillery where we took a self-guided tour and had a bit of a rum sampling. It’s apparently a pretty new place, open only a few years. Not our favorite rum though. We wandered about town a bit, and followed the Captain’s nose for finding great off-the-beaten-track restaurants, often a bit challenging in a tourist-driven area. We ended up at a great little Jamaican/Bahamian place called the Pepper Pot Grill; I suspect we may have been the only non-Bahamians in the place.

Fortified, we wandered a bit further east to explore the Queen’s Staircase and its climb up to Fort Fincastle. Mike had hoped to do some exploring near the harbor, but we/I was reluctant to linger too long lest we end up bicycling in the dark on our way back to far-flung West Bay. We found our bus back, pedaled back to the bay, shuttled bikes back to Cheshire and relaxed with drinks and a snack in the cockpit as the sun set. While Nassau was interesting to see, I’m generally not a fan of the hustle-and-bustle, nor of the cruise ship crowds. We’re looking forward to getting a bit more remote in the weeks to come.

Paradise Island Lighthouse, Nassau Harbour

Paradise Island Lighthouse, Nassau Harbour

About the time we started thinking about how to collect Duncan, top off water, get a propane refill, etc., we heard from cruising friends Curt and Cindy aboard Classic Cyn that they’d be in the area. We were able to make arrangements for a slip at Palm Cay where they were headed. The marina is on the southeast corner of New Providence Island, but because of some shallow bits of water, the marina staff recommended we take a northerly route around the island, which took us through Nassau Harbour past Atlantis and the couple of cruise ships that were in port. We arrived at Palm Cay in time to overlap with Curt and Cindy for a bit less than a day, but we made the most of it. They’d arranged for the courtesy car for a couple of hours, so we tagged along and did some provisioning. The marina staff collected our propane tank and would arrange for a refill. We had the best “Hollywood showers” we’ve had in about 3 months and enjoyed the all-you-can-eat pizza, some wine and live jazz music at the onsite restaurant overlooking a lovely pool and beach. Yesterday I did some laundry (free, but the slowest machines on the planet), did some electronics updates (free wifi!) and a bit of cleaning while Mike took a rental car for the day to collect Duncan and do a bit more touristing about Nassau. This morning we’re off, Exumas-bound.

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Winging It

Moving from the protected bayside of the Florida Keys, we made the 1600 opening at Snake Creek Bridge and poked our nose out into the Atlantic to see what conditions looked like compared to the forecast. We did have wind on our nose as expected for a short bit, but seas were calmer than we expected. We motored on a bit and at about 1745, committed to crossing.

We’d planned for an overnight across the Gulf Stream to be better assured of a daylight arrival, not being certain what our pace would be, how our Cheshire would get along in the mighty Gulf Stream. As it turned out, we made better time that we expected and had to hang out a bit offshore until daylight for our pass between Gun and Cat Cay. (We’d originally thought we’d head for Bimini, but since our plan to start with is to go south, we thought we’d clear in (customs/immigration) at Cat Cay instead. However, with our earlier than planned arrival and with another good weather day ahead of us, we opted to hoist our yellow quarantine flag and keep going. Winging it, as always. Our new plan was to make our way across the Great Bahama Bank towards Northwest Channel where there would be a couple of options for places to officially clear in. We had a beautiful calm, clear day motoring across the Bank, but with not quite enough daylight to actually make either of our locations for clearing in. Not comfortable with anchoring in unfamiliar anchorages with perhaps questionable info in the dark, we opted to anchor on Northwest Shoal… which as it sounds, is in fact a shallow spot in the middle of nowhere with no land in sight. It was a fairly calm night however, full of stars I might add.

Up and out the next morning, we headed to Chub Cay in the southern Berry Islands where we pulled up to the marina dock shortly before noon. There’s not much going on on Chub Cay, confirmed by a woman we met who, along with her husband, crew and captain a sizable motor yacht berthed here. In fact, there were a few sizable motor yachts, and a bunch of sport fishers, and only a few of us sailboats, but ironically, one was another Gemini. The marina folks were great though. They brought the necessary paperwork to the boat for us to fill out, after which Mike and some others were driven to the airport. Painless process. We got our cruising permit good for 90 days, and it only cost $150, half of what it should have (?). Our information also told us that it would also cost us $100 to dock at the marina to complete the clearing in process, more if we opted to stay all night. Except that they charged us nothing. We hoisted our Bahamian courtesy flag, took a short walk about, topped off fuel and dropped anchor just outside the marina in a lovely spot off the small beach.

LS_20150225_135900 maritime Bahamian flag

Not bad for our first Gulf Stream crossing. Next stop: West Bay on New Providence Island.

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