Chromatically Challenged

The Bahamas are colored in rich blues, greens, browns and sandy white of a tropical sea.  The rocky islands have some colorful flowers, but overall the color scheme is consistent.

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Hope Town, on the other hand, is a delightful assault on the retinas.

We are tucked into a tiny bay, directly below the Elbow Reef Light House, the last Kerosene powered lighthouse in the world.

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We love these cute doorknobs on the hatch out to the observation ledge.

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The antique, yet operational, clockworks.

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Large fresnel lenses.

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Peg wondered at this curved cabinet, apparently built for the lighthouse.

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Endeavor down there, seen through one of the portals.

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On the opposite side is busy Hope Town harbor.  All of those boats are on moorings are closely spaced.  We’ve decided this is where city folk come to stay. Being 50 feet from your neighbor probably doesn’t spook these people, but we would feel claustrophobic.  And forget about skinny dipping after dark!

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The town wraps tightly around the harbor, with businesses taking much of the waterfront.  Easy to dinghy to most shops.

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The homes here are well kept, most in muted pastels.  The street below is one of two major thoroughfares, wide enough for the rare car.  More common are golf carts and bikes.  With lanes so narrow, the 5 Mph limit in town makes good sense!

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There is a cuteness about everything in town, from the street signs…

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… to the adorable homes which all seem to have a unique nautical motif.

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A driftwood sign at the local memorial site has a certain rustic style.

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Even the tree house of some local kids is quaint.

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But it is the flowers making Hope Town memorable.  Almost every home and business we passed was splashed with carefully groomed wild colors.

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Whereas some of our other stops looked a bit run down and disheveled, Hope Town has proved the opposite.  We met cruisers who spend 2 to 3 months in the harbor here each Winter.  We wouldn’t be the types to park it here for long, but the town certainly has a lot to offer and we’re glad we visited.

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Preparedness

There are things I’m prepared for, like rough sailing, system failures, and grilling dinner on a heaving deck.  Then there are the things I am not.  First and foremost is cutting wife’s hair.

Peg last got her locks shorn the first week of December when we arrived in Bimini.  She has been looking pretty shaggy, but was loathe to let met play stylist.

She may have been right.

Today, anchored at Tilloo Cay, she cut my hair, a simple buzz-job with the hair trimmer, then consented being my first-ever customer.

I’ve seen hair cut hundreds of times and it always seemed simple enough.  Execution is not so easy.  I have a new appreciation for how barbers hold a comb, scissors and hair all at once.  And my engineer’s thoughts of how to measure the length to cut off went right out the window.  Hair should be fairly inert, but I swear hers was trying to escape.

In the end, with Peg looking in the mirror, providing helpful, Er, suggestions, we got through it.  Only an hour and a half of sheer terror!

She’s back to being a short haired cutie and I still have all my body parts.  A win.

Hello Abacos

Raising 60 feet of anchor chain quietly is nigh impossible.  At 4:30 am it sounds like army tanks rolling through the anchorage.  So, sorry to other boats in the tiny harbor this morning!  Once unhooked, Endeavor puttered quietly out into the ocean.  I got underway so early to catch any remaining morning breeze to would help sail 55 miles to Great Abaco Island.  By 3:30pm we were anchored in the lee of Lynyard Cay, east of the large island.  From here we will begin exploring the northern perimeter of the Abaco Islands.

Two hours after we left the harbor, the sun exploded from the eastern cloud bank.  I had the ocean to myself, navigating in the darkness.

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A little later it became apparent this patch of water is busy.  East-West commercial traffic crossed our bow often.

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The North-South path we followed is popular with cruisers also, it is the shortest route from Eluthera to the Abacos and vice versa.   Captains set autopilots for a waypoint at the other end and sit back to watch the boat drive itself.  This explains why we had to keep constant watch for oncoming traffic: everyone traveling one thin line means boats passing close by.

Toward mid-morning the wind died down, leaving us to rise and fall on the mammoth, lumbering swells coming in from the Atlantic.  Hard to tell how high they were, but the highest were above eye level when we stood in the cockpit.  Fortunately, the period between peaks was long, so the experience was more a gentle rise and fall, rise and fall.

Peg slept part of the way and woke to tell me of a strange dream.  She and my two sisters were in a kitchen and finding it hard to maintain balance with the kitchen pitching and rolling like a boat.  Apparently it was frustrating to open cabinets with the knobs suddenly shifting away.

I usually dream about forgetting my college schedule and not knowing which class is next.

The highlight of the day was hooking this 40″ Mahi-Mahi.  We were trolling two lures in the extremely deep water and I wasn’t expecting any action.  Thus it was a chaotic all-hands-on-deck fire drill as we scrambled to find our landing gear and get the fish on board.  Note to family:  the fish was caught with Grandpa’s old salmon pole, still solid gear 25 years later!

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Peg cut the engine so I could fight the fish without added boat speed.  This caused anther sailboat, “Willemia”, from Montreal, to call us on the radio and inquire if we were okay!  Turns out they had been tracking us on AIS and the sudden change alerted them.

Our fridge is now stuffed with Mahi-Mahi steaks, with some due to hit the grill tonight.

Life is good.

Frayed Knot

Peg got a little uppity today.  Like 44 feet uppity.  A little time in her time-out chair did us a world of good.

Spanish Wells has a more well-kept atmosphere.  The homes are colorful and neat.  Pastel colors abound on buildings.  The streets are busy, with golf carts seemingly the main mode of transportation.

There is also a strong boating industry here, with boat repair yards, a marina, chandleries (sellers of boat parts), and so on.  One of the grocery stores was even on the dock: simply ride up in a dinghy and re-provision.

One boatyard had this boat up on a marine railway for some work.  The tracks are visible below the boat.  When time comes to launch the boat they roll it backwards…

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…past this removable bridge forming part of the waterfront street.

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Before leaving Meeks Patch today we explored the small island a bit.  Anchored with us was this 92 foot sailboat.  According to the crew who came out to greet us, a young man from Canada and a young lady from Germany, it is on a humanitarian mission to Haiti.  Three weeks ago their engine died and the boat was blown up against the rocks on the other side of the island.  You can see damage at the waterline near the bow and also below the rear coachroof.  Fortunately the hull is steel and though badly dented, it still is holding the sea out.  They are waiting on the engine to be fixed before continuing on.

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Meek Patch Island is close to town and is popular with locals on the weekends.  This driftwood bar looks like a well used meeting place.

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There are three main beaches on the island, two on one side toward the ends and one on the other in the middle.  Someone cut this convenient trail down the middle of the island allowing easy visit to all three.

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I guess it is not surprising, with the popularity of golf carts here, to see some body work from one washed up on the beach.

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Tropical Tumbleweed?  Nope, the end view of a tree root system bleached by the sun.  Oddly pretty natural sculpture.

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This poor snail must think this journey is never ending.  It had already come about 50 feet and had another 50 to go to the water’s edge.

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After exploring the little island, we upped anchor and sailed about 5 miles further along the point to Royal Island Harbor.  This move puts us in a 360 degree protected anchorage and positions us an hour closer to the Abacos for our crossing tomorrow.

So why was my Admiral uppity today?  Well, remember we mentioned the spinnaker halyard fraying?  Once we anchored in calm water, she volunteered to go up the mast and investigate.  So my little bosun-chair mate mounted her time-out chair and I winched her to the top, with main and backup halyards for safety.

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She discovered the spinnaker halyard routed through a wrong path at the mast head and made the necessary correction.  This should stop the line from rubbing on a protruding cotter pin, the source of the abrasion.

While aloft, she took these shots of Royale Island Harbor.  The narrow entrance is to the right.  Most of these boats are queuing up to cross tomorrow in the forecasted favorable winds. As usual, Endeavor is alone in the shallow water at the head of the pack.

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Outside the harbor the waves are 2 to 3 feet.  Inside: 2 to 3 inches.

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And, given the opportune moment, we had to shoot each other shooting us.

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Yes, I did let her back down.  She says next time it’s my turn to go up.  Yeah, like she’s gonna crank my m’ass up there!

Win Some, Lose Some

Hopefully we have not given the impression cruising is all rum and roses.  There are also times when we’d like to step off the boat and have the Coast Guard fly us back to solid ground.  Only stubbornness and preparation get us through these times.  Like in marriage or life, you sometimes have to ride out the rough spots.

Today we had more wins than losses, but the balance was closer than normal.

Win: After settling in at Highborne Cay last night, a heavy rainstorm passed through.  We filled our 6 gallon auxiliary water jerry can… enough for two additional showers!

Lose: Some time late at night the wind shifted toward the southwest.  What was a flat water anchorage turned rolly with swells.  It was bad enough neither of us got much sleep.  Hard to drift off when you are being tossed from side to side on the bed.

Win: Not a major win, but I did manage to navigate out of the anchorage in the pre-dawn darkness without crashing into another boat.

Lose:  Shortly after leaving Highborne Cay and sailing north past Ship Channel Cay, we found the magical spot where the residual ocean swells from yesterday met the stiff SW morning wind and the tidal flow.  The magical spot generated the largest waves of our trip and was right in the route we needed to follow. It took us almost two hours to get past and onto the smoother bank waters.  Those two hours were uncomfortable.  Safe, but uncomfortable.

Lesson learned: As in politics, things work out better if forces are working somewhat together and not in total opposition.

Win:  Once we got on the bank and turned more north, up went the spinnaker and Endeavor hauled butt.  She routinely ran 8 to 9 knots and peaked at 10.3.  Not bad for a heavily loaded catamaran.

Lose:  When we dropped the spinnaker I noticed the halyard ( a line to pull a sail up the mast) had chafed almost through.  Something is abrading the line at the top of the mast.  We will not use the spinnaker again until we have calm conditions and can go up the mast to investigate.

Win: I timed our arrival at the cut through Current Island and we we got a free ride through, going 7.5 knots with the outboard idling.  The amount of water moving back and forth across the banks is phenomenal.

Win: We anchored on the northeast side of a small island named Meeks Patch.  Very quiet spot and we could dinghy into Spanish Wells.

Win: A combination of light from the setting sun and a nearby thunderhead.

Ride the Wind

Our rapid progress north through the Bahamas continues.  Yesterday we left Black Point at 6:30am and explored shallow routes northward through the islands.  This is truly intimate sailing, with the scenery close by.  Visual Piloting Rules (VPR) was the order of the day:  watching the color of the water to avoid running aground.  As it was, we sailed through a low tide cycle and actually dragged one rudder through the white sand for a few feet at one point.  Okay, so maybe cutting it a bit thin.

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We discovered the stretch from Blackpoint to O’Brien Cay is where the rich go to relax.  Mega yachts were plentiful…

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…as well as swank looking residences.

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Our wandering occasionally gave us a glimpse out to the ocean, but we had no desire to go play in the large waves.  Sailing along peacefully through the maze between islands was more in tune with the moment.

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At 1:00 pm we arrived at our goal for the day: O’Brien Cay in the Exuma National Park.  We picked this spot for two reasons:

First, across the channel is Johnny Depp’s private island, Little Halls Pond Cay.

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We anchored in a one-boat sized bay on O’Brien Cay and suited up to visit the second reason: The Aquarium.

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The Aquarium is a small but vibrant reef protected behind a small u-shaped island off O’Brien Cay.  The reef is inside the “U” and allows snorkeling even when the tide is flowing in the channel.  We found out though it was almost slack tide, swimming was difficult if we went outside the protected area.  The Exumas park provides mooring balls for dinghies, preventing damage from anchors.

The reef provided the best diving we’ve done in the Bahamas.  I saw my first Lion Fish, hiding under a ledge.  Unfortunately it was in shadow and the video did not work.

Once the tide shifted, we decided the tiny bay was too rolly and puttered a mile over to anchor off Bell Island.  The anchorage marked on the chart is directly off this beach resort.  There was no apparent activity on shore and a worker answered, “Ya, Ya, Ya Mon!” when I yelled ashore to ask if it was okay to anchor there.

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After Y.A.S.S. we settled down for an incredibly quiet sleep.

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This morning I again started sailing about 6:30am, this time staying farther away from the islands on the bank side.  The forecasted winds were too high to make shallow waters safe.  Better to be in the 15 to 20 feet common on the bank.  The wind started off about 10 knots and our course was dead downwind, so I launched the spinnaker, running wing-on-wing with the spinnaker to port and the genoa to starboard.

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By mid morning winds increased to 18 to 20 and I rolled up the genoa.  The spinnaker  powered Endeavor along at 8.5 knots average.  Running downwind the motion of mushing along with the waves was pleasant.

We met many boats going the opposite direction, motoring directly into the wind.  I’m guessing they were not enjoying the ride so much. Picture your house slamming up and down for 8 hours!

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Wind is a big part of planning our route back to Florida.  When we left George Town (Red path below) we decided to stay on the bank in the protection of the islands rather than our original plan to sail directly north across open water to Cat Island or the south end of Eluthera.

Favorable winds have sped our progress and we are currently at Highborne Cay ready to cross tomorrow to a town named Spanish Wells on the north end of Eluthera (Green).  If the wind is still agreeable, we will then sail across a portion of ocean, up to 15,000 feet deep, crossing to the Abacos area (Blue).  We will then explore the Abacos (Yellow) before staging for a crossing back to Florida (Violet).

Ghost Town

On the agenda today was a stop at a ghost town, the Perry Institute for Marine Science on Lee Stocking Island.

Per this article, “The research station of the Perry Institute for ­Marine Science was founded by and named for John Perry, who purchased Lee Stocking ­Island in 1957. By 1970, he had established a thriving scientific center including a tropical marine ­laboratory equipped to study the ­coral reefs, fisheries, ecosystems and underwater biodiversity of the region, as well as facilities to develop manned and unmanned submersibles…

…Then, a few years ago, its grant ran out, the funding dried up, and everyone left. Because of the ­difficulty and expense of packing and transporting all the machinery, equipment, ­appliances, furniture, tools and even ­many personal belongings, they were simply left behind, and the entire fully out­fitted ­contemporary village was abandoned. Since then, many portable items of any practical use or value have been ­carted off by scavengers.”

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We had heard the abandoned labs looked eerie, but with so much stuff pilfered by scavengers, it looks sad.

The island has been purchased again and workers were preparing the grounds for renovation.  The new facilities are to be some sort of ecotourism resort.

We did see two things of eco-interest:

A coconut tree attempting to join the world… we moved it out of the way of the workmen to give it a better chance.

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And what looked like a monster aloe plant. Of course, using Peg for scale makes anything look big!

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We continued north, running some shallow routes to avoid going out into the ocean.  The wind was north at 18 kts and by staying inside we were able to motorsail all the way to Black Point, almost 40 miles.  Endeavor seems eager to be moving again, she was ripping along nicely, averaging 6.5 kts into the wind with the outboard at 1/3 throttle.

We are skipping the islands we saw on the way down and setting up to visit ones we missed.  Tomorrow we will be anchoring near Johnny Depp’s island to snorkel a popular coral garden.

 

Looking Out My Back Door

11:00 pm: Darkness.  Moon.  Mast Light.  Another Mast Light.  First Mast Light.  Moon.  Darkness.  Moon.  Mast Light. Another Mast Light, and so on.

As the breeze slowly swings Endeavor at anchor, these lights move past the cabin window. I’m sleeping in the saloon because the humidity is high and the main berth is stuffy.  Haven’t found a comfortable combination of pillows and pads, but the leading candidate puts me in view of the moving light show.

Our entertainment this evening was “Eat. Pray. Love.” with Julia Roberts.

With margaritas to make it tolerable.

We haven’t found our “word” yet, but have learned a lot about ourselves during the journey.

So now I’m too exhausted, mentally and chemically to get up and pull a curtain, so back and forth the lights move.

1:00 am:  Sleep must have come, because it goes in an instant when rain comes pouring in the hatch above my head.  The 10% probability rain forecast must have meant 100% chance in our 10% of the area.  Funny how fast the crew of Endeavor can scramble into action, mostly naked, to yank hatches closed.

And did it rain!  We added several gallons of fresh rainwater to our tanks and the decks are newly clean.

7:00 am: Blue skies, light breeze, 80 degrees and islands to explore, close by out my back door!

Chess, Anyone?

As winter deepens down here the main effect is more frequent northers.  With each front the wind swings through the compass directions clockwise.  At George Town, this meant shifting from one side of the anchorage to another.  As we cruise north, these swings add a challenging dimension to route planning, sort of like a game of chess on water.  Consider the forecasted winds for the next week:

Today              ESE @ 18 kts.
Sunday           S  @ 13 kts.
Monday          N @ 18 kts.
Tuesday         ENE @ 20 kts.
Wednesday   ESE @ 27 kts.
Thursday        S @ 30 kts.
Friday              SW @ 30 kts.
Saturday         W @ 13 kts.

We are sailing northwest along a chain of islands having irregular shorelines, safe anchorages on the shallow side only, and swift currents between the islands.  The north shores (ocean side) of these islands may look attractive on Google Earth, but they are rocky and hostile.

Our next goal is to stop at Lee Stocking Island to visit an abandoned laboratory.  The island only has protection from NW, N, NE and E winds, so it made sense to come in from the ocean and stop at Rat Cay, which shelters us from today’s ESE winds.  The only protection from S around this area is tiny Pigeon Cay, a 1/4 mile away, so we will move there tomorrow and do boat projects. Monday we will finally go to Lee Stocking for N protection and exploration.  On Tuesday we have to move to prepare for the winds later in the week.

Simple, isn’t it?  So much easier for land-dwellers to hop in the car, drive directly to their goal and not worry about safe parking!

The water at Rat Cay is swimming pool clear over a white sand bottom.

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We arrived at high tide and later walked the beach at low tide.  The lower water exposed colorful coral…

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and man-made objects becoming reefs.

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Evening brought YASS (Yet another stunning sunset).  We have been joined by 3 other sail boats who are apparently making similar chess moves.

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We found a potential sail washed ashore, should we have to improvise a raft to get home.  (Lame “Castaway” reference.  -Ed.)

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Pegzilla terrorized the cay, taking advantage of the mini-palm trees to enhance her stature.

Wow, I love this girl!

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The Perfect Shell

Next to our anchorage last night lay a  small island named Bacchus Rock.  The berg, maybe 50 feet across originally, has been more than doubled in size by being used as a dumping ground for empty conch shells from local restaurants.

Minor coincidence:  Bacchus is also the figure on Natalie’s tattoo… small world!

It was here Peg searched for a conch shell to bring home as a souvenir of George Town.  In the end, she gave up the search.  In harvesting conch, to put it crudely, the shell is holed twice and the sea snail yanked out.  The result is a damaged shell good for little but eventually becoming land mass.

We are bringing little back from this voyage in terms of physical souvenirs.  When we downsized our belongings prior to leaving we realized most such things become dust collectors.  Better to have good memories and reminders to, like this blog, help trigger rememberances.

Today we provisioned, did laundry, filled fuel tanks and prepared to depart Georgetown.  After a whirlwind 2 weeks of entertaining visitors the boat suddenly seems large again.

Endeavor is back in sailing mode after almost 2 months in floating-house mode.  She is ready to put on some miles.  All the water toys are put away and her decks are clear for action.

We expect to leave George Town at dawn tomorrow, riding the East wind as we work our way about 550 miles back to Florida.