April 1, 2011 – Weather layover day, south end of Hoffman’s Cay

Stayed put because of strong winds all day – high temp 78 degrees, water temp 74 degrees – wind blew 20 knots from 2 am through 4 pm today; wind began out of the SW, then shifted to the west in mid afternoon; few showers in late afternoon, then with front passage, wind shifted to 5 to 10 knots out of the north

We went to bed last night with calm conditions, but the predicted winds arrive right on time and with a vengence around 2 am. The larger boats in the anchorage are monitoring the squalls on their radar, and they take turns maintaining an anchor watch all night. They keep their radios tuned to VHF channel 68, and call out status reports every hour or two. With all the bouncing and jostling, I’m unable to sleep and so I grab the lap blanket and curl up in the cockpit, to listen to the anchor watch reports and monitor the status of our boat. We are anchored in a good position, and seem to be holding well enough. Before going to bed, I lowered the engine so that it would be ready to start at a moments notice, should we begin dragging anchor. I doze off from time to time, but never for very long. I hear reports on the radio of squalls to our north and east, but we are fortunate, and none come near us. Finally, around 6 am, the first hint of dawn appears, and it develops into a reddish sunrise. Red sky in the morning – sailor take warning, the old saying goes. Let’s hope not.

We have our coffee and breakfast in a jostled cockpit, as the strong winds of last night continue to build. We realize that any thoughts of activities ashore or moving today will remain on hold until the wind abates. We busy ourselves with on board chores. Sandy cleans the cabin, while I whittle away on my repair list. I troubleshoot the faulty anchor light socket, and am pleased to discover that the problem is simply a wire connection in the panel which had pulled loose. Once it’s reconnected, I have power to the connector plug on the cabin roof. I will no longer have to use my jury rigged extension cord. I also fixed a 12 volt plug in receptacle which had stopped working and come loose. I replaced a burned out fuse and it now works fine. I’m 2 for 2 and feeling pretty good.

But it’s still blowing. Sandy decides to bake up some muffins on the outback oven after lunch. We have so much breeze blowing through the foredeck hatch, which is open for ventilation, that the temperature guage on the oven doesn’t register right, and they over bake. She trims off the burned parts and they still taste great. While she’s baking muffins, our friend Kevin dinghies over from Vagabundo. He climbs aboard and we have a great visit. He’s in his 30’s I’d guess, and is a live aboard on his older 30 foot long sloop. He’s having a great time trying a new lifestyle, and is a lot of fun to talk with.

During his visit, I go below to check on my house battery voltage level. I noticed earlier that the level doesn’t seem to be increasing, as it usually does. The solar panel should be gaining on the level of charge, but it seems to be static or actually dropping a little. I attribute it to the cloudy day, but during Kevin’s visit the sun comes out, and it’s still dropping. Something is wrong with the solar panel charging system. After Kevin returns to his boat I go below and grab my volt meter. I first check the panel and verify that it’s putting out power. Next, I check the wires which go from the controller and the battery. Nothing. I check the wires going into the controller from the panel, and they’re reading normally. Clearly, the controller has picked this day to fail. As electrical problems go, this one is pretty minor. I simply connect the panel directly to the battery. So long as the charge level doesn’t exceed 14 volts or so, I won’t have a problem charging without a controller. And, I seriously doubt that an excess of power will be a problem. I will, though, keep monitoring the charge level on my built in digital volt meter. The net result of this situation is that we’ve lost most of the day’s charging sunlight, and we go to bed with a charge level of around 12.35 volts, which is lower than normal. I’ll be interested to see how well we recover tomorrow.

We have an early dinner, and are pleased to see that the wind is finally dropping, so we hop into the dinghy and go ashore for an after dinner walk. We wander the full length of little White Cay, which is just a couple hundred feet away from our anchor spot. It’s a lovely evening, and we retire with the hope for better weather tomorrow.

April 2, 2011 – South end of Hoffman’s Cay to Rose Island, near Nassau

cruised today, 8 hours under way, all power; 349nm total – temp 82 degrees, water 78 degrees; SE wind at 5 – 10 knots; seas 2 feet, closely spaced and choppy

I climb out of the sack and into the cockpit, and am grumpy. Last evening, just after dinner an enormous sport fishing boat rumbled into our anchorage, bulled his way between the 5 or so boats, us included, who were anchored there. He pulled just ahead of us and Cacique and proceeded to drop his anchor. Glen on Cacique tried hailing the arrogant captain on VHF Channel 16, and was totally ignored. He dropped his bow anchor, backed off, and set a stern anchor, uncomfortably close to us. The water beneath his stern was illuminated with piercingly bright underwater lights, powered by a noisy on board generator. I patiently waited for him to shut this system down, but he left everything on, all night long. By the time I wake up this morning, the throb of his generator sets my jaw on edge. To cap things off, we’ve swung around during the night, and now are sitting darn near directly above his stern anchor. I row over in the dinghy and let the deck hand, who is busy baiting hooks for the days fishing, know my feelings on anchoring too close to other boats, and the impact that their generator has on the peace and quiet of others. He is predictably unimpressed with my case. I row back and watch the show unfold, as they work to get underway. They haul in the bow anchor, and then start backing down on the stern anchor. They move to within 15 feet of our boat before they’re directly above their stern anchor. The deck hand hauls on it, in an unsuccessful effort to break it loose. I sarcastically yell over to them “Just cut her loose. You can afford another.” That clearly cemented our relationship. They finally break it loose, pivot, and power back through our small group of anchored cruisers. Not the best start to a day.

I turn the hand held VHF radio on, and listen in the the chatter between the boats in our anchorage. They are a very close group, and obviously cruising together. They talk of the morning weather forecast, which has an ominous character to it. A potentially dangerous storm is expected to blow through the area on Tuesday afternoon or evening. Talk is of 40 or 50 knot winds associated with squalls, and possibly even higher wind speeds. This kind of weather gets everyone’s attention, and thoughts immediately turn to finding good shelter. Glen radios me and informs me that his earlier information regarding conditions for tomorrow have changed. He feels today, which is supposed to be settled conditions, with light and variable winds, would definitely be the best day for us to make our jump to Nassau. I completely agree, and we make preparations accordingly. I’m disappointed that we won’t be able to snorkel again on the entrance cut reef, and go outside the cut to fish, and we also won’t have time to drop down to Little Harbour Cay and sample the menu at Flos Conch Bar and Restaurant, but I suppose it’s ok to leave a little unfinished business as incentive for a return visit some day.

We quickly eat breakfast and prepare to get underway. I remove the covers from the jib and main, even though I don’t expect to have any sailing wind to work with. You just never know, and I don’t want to have to peel the covers off while at sea. I unbolt the kicker motor from the dinghy and clamp it onto the retractable motor mount. All gear in the dinghy gets passed up to Sandy, and I move the dinghy around to the bow of Chinook. I clamber onto the foredeck and haul the dinghy on board. I open the air valves and it quickly deflates. It easily folds up and stows in its storage bag. This is much easier than performing the equivalent operation with our old porta-bote, and I’m really glad we went with the inflatable for this cruise. Sandy starts the motor and I raise the anchor. While I’m securing the anchor, she reports that she can’t see any cooling water streaming out of the pee hole. I give a quick check and see a little dribble, and attribute the low flow to the idle speed the motor is set at. I steer a course down the anchorage and out the cut into open water. I glance back, and am disturbed to see absolutely no water coming out. Thoughts immediately reflect back to the grounding we did while getting out of No Name Harbor just prior to our Gulf Stream Crossing. Could I have messed up the impeller? I have a spare, but I didn’t bring gear oil and pump, both of which would be needed if I need to replace an impeller. I turn the engine off, remove the cowling, and disconnect the hose that directs cooling water out of the engine and through the pee hole. I’m relieved to find it plugged. I’ve dealt with this before, and I easily clear the hose, reconnect it, restart the engine, and find a good, steady flow streaming out. We can proceed with our crossing.

The day is as good as advertised for an open water crossing. Seas are only around 2 feet, and we can run comfortably at 6 knots. I let “Ray” do the steering while I focus on getting my fishing line out and enjoying the crossing. We see numerous flying fish, and cross paths with a few other cruising boats, all headed west. It is a pleasant day to be out here, and I am happy. I regret not being able to fly a sail, but only slightly. Virtually all systems on the boat are in good order and operating properly. Life is good, and we are enthusiastically thinking about finally getting to the Exumas. Just one more crossing after we leave Nassau and we’ll actually be there.

I still haven’t solved the mystery of stimulating a dolphin fish to strike my lure, and as we near our destination, I reel the line in. We’ve decided to head for Rose Island, a nice little anchorage just a few miles away from Nassau. Nassau Harbour itself has a poor reputation as an anchorage. Strong current, poor holding, lots of boat traffic, and crowded conditions all add up to an unappealing situation. We intend to stay at a marina while we visit Nassau, but we want to have the benefit of a nearly full day when we check in. We’re arriving in the area at 5pm, so it makes sense to anchor out at Rose Island, and to get a marina slip in Nassau tomorrow morning. The only possible glitch to this plan would be the number of boats having the same idea as us. The coming storm is likely to push a lot of cruisers into marinas, and the place we’d like to stay at is popular. I call them on the cell phone, and am told that they “probably accommodate us tomorrow”. They suggest we call them in the morning.

We motor in to the anchorage at Rose Island around 5 pm, and it is a very attractive place. It is guarded by a series of coral reefs, but the entrance is broad and easily negotiated. A beautiful coral sand beach arcs around the anchorage. Several other boats are here when we arrive, but only 3 others besides ourselves stay the night. Sandy fixes up a great spaghetti dinner, and we dine at the cockpit table in the fading sunlight, wine glasses in hand. It is quite warm out, and the 78 degree water entices me to grab my snorkel and fins, after dinner, for a quick dip. I swim out to the anchor and find it satisfyingly buried in sand. I then investigate the small coral reef area just inshore of our boat. I float above numerous live coral colonies, and a nice assortment of colorful fish. I return to the boat, rinse off with the solar shower, air dry, and then enjoy coffee and cookies with Sandy in the cockpit, as the sun sets. It’s grown dark as I complete this entry. The water is glassy smooth, the rythmic sound of 6 inch waves sloshing onto coral sand the only sound.

April 3, 2011 – Rose Island to Nassau Harbour Club Marina

7nm cruised today, 1 ¾ hours, all under power; 356nm total – high temp 82 degrees; water temp 77 degrees; E wind 5 to 10 kts most of the day, a bit higher in evening; seas light chop – purchased 21 gallons of gas at $5.23/gallon; 7.4 miles per gallon since last fuel purchase

We’re up with the sunrise, around 7am. Today we go to Nassau, capital of the Bahamas, home to the mega resort/casino Atlantis and destination of huge cruise ships. We will take a slip for a few days, do our provisioning, clean up the boat, see some sights, and wait for weather suitable for our next crossing. I phone Nassau Harbour Club Marina, to confirm that they have room for us. The lady on the other end says come on in, so we make ready to get underway. Anchor is up at 8:15am. We have a light easterly breeze, but I run on the motor, since I don’t want to take the extra time which sailing in this light air would require. We thread our way through some moderately wide gaps in coral reefs, and finally make our turn toward the east approach to Nassau Harbour. The Eastern Channel narrows at Fort Montague, and there I radio Nassau Harbour Control, requesting permission to enter the harbor. The voice at the other end asks where we’ve come from and what our registration number is. From listening to other cruisers radioing in, I know that he wants the number on our cruising permit papers, and I have it ready. I radio the information, and he approves our entry. We will need to radio him again when we depart.

As we slowly weave our way through the heavy boat traffic in the Eastern Channel, I radio Nassau Harbour Club Marina, asking if they can give us a slip assignment. The dockmaster radios back, saying they won’t be ready for us until 10am. That works out fine, since we need to stop at a fuel dock to buy gas. We head for the Texaco fuel dock at Nassau Harbour View Marina. The pilings look unfriendly, so I put out all my fenders on the port side, along with both fender boards. I’d recently tied them to the lifelines along the cabin, so that they’d be handy, and I’m glad I did so. We have wind and current astern, so our approach is tricky. I get near the dock, and then shift into reverse, and slowly ease over to the dock, where an attendant stands ready to take our bow line from Sandy. I hold the stern into the dock with light power in reverse while he secures the bow line to a piling. One look at the rusty bolts protruding from a piling about midway along our hull confirms the essential nature of fender boards around here. It takes 21 gallons to fill all tanks, and this indicates a use rate of 7.4 miles per gallon since we last filled up in Bimini. I’m very pleased with this consumption rate. The amount of sailing we’ve done has certainly helped. I also buy a large bag of ice for the cooler.

By the time we’re done at the fuel dock, our slip is ready, so we motor the short distance over to Harbour Club. I spot the dockmaster standing on the concrete bulkhead, next to a short slip. He waves me in. I’m fendered for a port side tie up, which works best for us, given that my barbeque and kicker motor are both mounted on the starboard side, so I plan to back into the slip. This works fine. Sandy is on the bow, following the suggestions of the dockmaster as she lassos a piling with the starboard bow line. We tie up with criss-crossed stern lines and spring lines along the fixed dock. I register for 2 nights, with the option of a third. We’re in a good location, a stone’s throw away from the pool, rest rooms, showers and laundry.

Over lunch we plan our day. Sandy will do laundry and edit pictures while waiting for the machines to run. I’ll give the boat a thorough washing. It’s warm out, and I’m in my swim suit, so it’s handy to take a quick dip in the pool every so often. I finish the boat before the wash has finished drying. I grab the sleeping bag sheet, which has dried quickly, and bring it back to our dock to velcro it back into the sleeping bag. While doing this, some kind of big deep draft boat plows up the channel way too fast and sends a huge wake into the marina. I see our boat bucking violently in the surge of water and hear it bang against a piling. The tide has fallen, and there is some slack in the spring lines. I grab a line and tighten it as quickly as I can, but damage is done. I examine the stern, and find the swim ladder badly bent. This is a nasty start to our Nassau visit.

When these chores are done, we walk over to Starbucks for iced coffee and free internet use. I catch up on e’mail and send Ken a fresh batch of journal entries and pictures. I pick up a fixings for a steak dinner at the super market which is conveniently located across the street from our marina. We go for a quick swim in the pool and then fix dinner. It’s quite breezy, and our boat bobs and jerks against the mooring lines. It promises to be a bouncy night. We’ve got a good charge in the house battery, so we’re able to watch a movie on the laptop. While the movie is playing, we hear a lot of shouting out on the marina dock. We later learn that some guy has tried swimming out to a boat to steal stuff. He gets spotted before he could get aboard. The marina security guard calls the police, who never show up, and the swimmer gets away. At least, nothing was taken. We feel glad we’re so far away from the open channel. Before turning in for the night, I rig a snubber to the stern line which seems to be jerking most strongly, and that helps settle the boat.

April 4, 2011 – Layover day in Nassau

High temp 82 degrees; water temp 76 degrees – E wind at 15 to 20 kts – seas in harbor choppy

Today we will play tourist. Following breakfast we grab the camera and walk down Bay Street toward the Paradise Island Bride, which is around a half mile west of the marina. Just east of the bridge is a shallow anchorage, which is occupied by old and derelict boats, some of which are completely sunk. The wind is very stiff up on the bridge, and we hold onto our hats. Beneath the bridge on Potters Cay, which lies in the middle of the channel, we gaze down upon a series of colorful shacks which house the local seafood market. Brightly decorated with beer and rum advertising, they offer fresh conch and fish for sale. Once we step off the bridge we’re on Paradise Island, and our surroundings undergo a radical shift. We’re now in the world of opulence and conspicuous wealth. Verdant landscaping, seriously upscale shops, and guarded entryways to condo developments dominate the scene, and all are overshadowed by the surrealistic architecture of the coral pink Atlantis Resort. Our path there takes us through Marina Village, a cluster of pastel colored shops, offering diamonds, emeralds, and designer clothing. The adjacent marina is like nothing I’ve ever before seen. Each slip is occupied by a gleaming white mega motor yacht. I’m sure the smallest is at least 100 feet, and dozens are moored here. We walk past them, toward the entrance to Atlantis. The resort is immense, dominated by two huge, highly ornate hotel buildings which are connected by a skybridge, and dozens of condos and other structures are laid out in their shadow. The famous Atlantis Casino serves as a hub for the entire complex. It is impossible to go anywhere within the resort without first passing through the casino. The interior of Atlantis is richly decorated with sculptures of bronze and glass. The walls are tiled and detailed in base relief, all centered on the theme of the fabled lost city of Atlantis. We walk into the casino, and I decide I’ll donate $20 to their maintenance fund and maybe, just maybe, hit a big jackpot. I sit down in front of a dollar slot machine and begin pushing the buttons. My tally rises and falls, but the big winner fails to pop up. I finally cash out $12 ahead.

We buy our tickets to the aquarium exhibits, and we try to orient ourselves in this complex maze of corridors, halls and vast rooms. We enter the main aquarium, which is presented on the theme of an archeological dig, and gaze through thick glass windows at the rich and varied marine life on exhibit. The aquarium is beautifully designed and fascinating to tour. Fish can be viewed through the windows, from elevated walkways, and through plexiglass tubes. All around, verdant landscaping and cascading waterfalls enrich the experience. We buy lunch at an open air plaza, and watch the gulls and pigeons try to steal french fries. Following lunch we head for the exit, but not before once more passing through the casino. I figure I’ve got free money to play with, and so feed another $20 into a slot. This time I hit a $23 winner on the second try. I cash in, pleased to be $35 ahead on the day.

We walk back toward the boat, stopping along the way to buy Sandy a new snorkel mask at a dive shop. I pick up some hooks and sinkers at a marine supply store. By the time we get back to the marina, we’re more than ready for a cold drink and a dip in the pool. We’ve made friends with fellow cruisers on 10 or more boats which are moored here at Harbour Club Marina. Most of us are planning on heading for the Exumas in a day or so, and so these sessions at pool side afford a great opportunity to visit, share information about weather forecasts, our boats, good anchorages and places of interest. At 5pm an informal cocktail hour forms up around the pool, and a couple dozen cruisers, including us, show up. We’re something of a curiosity, the sailors on “the little MacGregor”. We form transitory bonds, and anticipate bumping into each other later on in the Exumas.

Sandy and I leave the party just before 7pm and walk down to “The Poop Deck”, a popular seafood restaurant. We are seated without delay, despite not having a reservation, and enjoy a delightful sunset dinner on their open air waterfront veranda. My stone crab claw dinner was outstanding. Sandy enjoyed her mahi mahi, with garlic potatoes on the side. It’s after dark by the time we finish with dinner. We’re a little edgy walking back to the boat after dark, which isn’t advisable around here, but we finish our stoll without incident. It is a pleasant evening, and we’ve enjoyed our sightseeing day in Nassau.

April 5, 2011 – Second layover day in Nassau

High temp 82 degrees; water temp 76 degrees – SE wind around 10 kts in the marina, 20 kts reported on the Yellow Banks; light rain shower just before midday – seas light chop in the harbor

We decide over breakfast on an excursion to downtown Nassau this morning. We walk up to Shirley Street and catch a bus, which takes us right into the heart of downtown, a ride of around 3 miles. We get off and wander the streets, poking into a few shops and just enjoying the scene. We walk by a full block of burned out buildings, on the harbor side of downtown Bay Street. We buy postcards and small items in a shop across the street. The owner tells us about the fire, which occurred on Valentines Day, this year. It started in the office of a nearby shop, and got reported to the fire department when still very small. The fire department responded with a pumper truck, but when it arrived, its water tank turned out to be empty. A second engine was dispatched, and the pump wouldn’t work on it. They could have pumped out of the harbor with the first truck, but no one thought of that. Meanwhile, a gusty wind kicked up, and before anything more could be done, the whole block was ablaze. It was a very traumatic event, made even worse by the fact that this area was recently hit by a hurricane, and many of these same shops had been badly damaged, and had lost their insurance.

The major government buildings are in this part of Nassau, and we check out the historic Parliament Building and Government House, which is the Governor’s mansion. We also browse the straw market, which is set up beneath a big tent structure, and is literally crammed with small individual stalls. Straw baskets, T-shirts, carved wooden figures, beach towels, shells and more are offered there, none with price tags. Haggling is the order of the day, and we play the game with a few items, but not trying to push the price down all that much. As noon nears, we decide to return to the boat and fix lunch there. We climb on an eastbound bus down on Bay Street, and settle in for the ride. Things go fine as we approach the first bridge to Paradise Island, and the bus continues straight ahead. However, as we reach the second bridge, the driver hangs an unexpected right turn and heads uptown. Before we know it, we’re traveling at right angles to our destination, and rapidly getting beyond comfortable walking distance. On top of it, we’re in a section of town which is decidedly local. We opt to sit tight and go along for the tour ride through the neighborhoods of Nassau. I try to follow the bus’s progress as it weaves around, however, most of the streets we take are not labeled on my map. I’m amazed at our driver’s skill as he routes his bus down streets narrower than most alleys, and around impossibly tight corners. After a half hour or so, we end up down on Bay Street again, and this time I tell the driver to drop us off before he heads up Mackey Street and away from Bay Street. This works out fine, and a short walk later we’re back at the boat.

After lunch I wash off the dinghy and apply some UV protective stuff to the upper parts while Sandy runs a final check on her grocery list. She heads for the grocery store while I walk over to Radio Shack to see about an antenna for the sideband radio. I meet up with her in the grocery and we finish the shopping together. It’s now time to stow provisions on the boat, and square things away in anticipation of tomorrow’s departure for the Exumas.

It seems hard to believe that, after all our preparation and travel, we’re finally ready for our final crossing, the one which will put us in the Exumas. We’ve heard so much about this storied cruising area, and we’re eager to experience it for ourselves. They say that the crystal seas of the Abacos are almost murky in comparison with Exuma waters. They say there’s an island there which is inhabited by a unique species of land iguanas. They say that pigs roam one of the Exuma islands, and they’ll swim right out to your boat looking for a handout. They say an old DC3 from drug running days in the 1980’s sits out in an Exuma lagoon, now providing shade and habitat for reef fish. They say there’s an underwater cave there, where you can snorkel through a submarine passage and enter Thunderball cave, of James Bond fame. They say that in the marine park there, enormous lobsters, protected from harvest, roam the bottom. They say that snorkeling the coral reefs in the Exumas is like swimming in an aquarium. These things and more are said about the Exumas. That’s why we’ve come here, and why we can’t wait to finally arrive.

April 6, 2011 – Nassau Harbour Club Marina to Pimlico Cay, in the northern Exumas

32 nm cruised today, 1 ½ hours under power, 5 ½ hours sailing – high temp 81 degrees; water temp 77.7 degrees; NE wind 10 knots early, building to over 15 knots by mid afternoon; seas 2 feet early, building to 4 feet and whitecapping by mid afternoon

It is warm and sultry in the marina when we rise at 7am. Thunderheads pile up to the east, but are moving away from us. The cold front is forecast to pass quickly over this morning, its passing to be marked by a shift in wind direction from the southeast to northeast. The shift seems to be occurring while we eat our breakfast and make ready to depart. I climb the stairs to the office one last time and check out. Back at the boat I remove the sail covers, lower rudders, centerboard and motor, and prepare the lines and fenders for departure. The dock master stops by when we’re ready, and helps with the lines. I shift into gear as he shoves us away from the dockside piling, and we’re off on our crossing of the Yellow Banks, with the Exumas beckoning just beyond the horizon.

I radio Nassau Harbour Control, and request permission to depart Nassau Harbour. He requests our destination, then gives us permission to leave and wishes us a good day. I motor down the East Harbour channel at 5 knots, with the wind on our port bow. We must hold this course for about 5 miles, until we reach a point just south of Porgee Rocks. Once clear of this waypoint, I set our course for Ship Channel Cay in the Exumas. The course is 320 degrees magnetic, and with the wind out of the northeast, conditions are perfect for sailing on a reach. We have around 10 knots of wind to start with, and we initially make around 3 ½ knots. However, our speed soon increases to 4 knots and better, with seas of around 2 feet. Our average speed gradually hits about 5 ½ knots, and we occasionally flirt with 6 knots. About halfway across, we begin seeing dark masses in the water, which signify the presence of coral heads, which the Yellow Banks are infamous for. We keep a sharp watch for them, and even though we would probably clear them by 5 feet or more, due to our shallow draft, we nonetheless steer around them. About 2/3’s across, I reduce the genoa to jib length, since the wind seems to be sneaking a little eastward, and we’re beginning to heel a bit more steeply. With the jib rolled in a bit, we maintain a steady heel of 20 degrees, and yet we’re still ripping along at close to 6 knots. While 9 nautical miles away from our Exuma Entrance waypoint, we begin to see the first indications of land, in the form of tree tops on the hilltop at the south end of Ship Channel Cay. The wind has now built to over 15 knots, and the seas are rolling along at 4 feet or better. Our speed is now averaging over 6 knots, and at one point touches 6.8 knots. We are truly crossing the Yellow Banks in style. As we near our Exuma Entrance waypoint, I note that this is the longest and fastest pure sailing passage our Chinook has ever made.

As we near Roberts Cay, we once again find ourselves dodging submerged coral heads. It’s time to end our sail and prepare to motor in to our anchorage. I lower and start the Nissan outboard, turn the wheel over to Sandy, and then reel in the jib. She turns us into the wind and I drop and secure the main. We’re ready to pick our way into the tight little channel between Roberts Cay and Pimlico Cay, where our cruising guide says we’ll find a good anchorage, which is secure in winds of all direction. The entrance channel is close in to Roberts Cay, with coral heads just a dozen feet off our starboard beam. Once inside, we cruise over pale green water, sand bottom and 4 feet deep. It is low tide. We see another sailboat anchored ahead, and a couple of power boats even further up the channel. We pick a spot well behind the sailboat and set well in 4 feet of water. Once we’re settled in, I grab my snorkel, mask and fins and swim the anchor. I find myself swimming against a substantial current, maybe 2 knots. The anchor is totally buried in sand.

This is a very pretty spot. Dense vegetation lines the shore of Pimlico Cay, to our east. A few palms poke their heads above the brush on Roberts Cay. There are few signs of life here. The anchored sailboat is obviously unoccupied, and appears to be nearly a derelict. A power boat comes and goes twice, and a light shows from one of the little houses on Ship Channel Cay, at the head of our little channel. We break out a bottle of wine and feast on a steak dinner to celebrate our arrival in the Exumas. It’s taken us 4 major crossings, covering a total open water distance of 200 nautical miles. We’ve made each of these crossings under near ideal conditions. Today’s crossing was the most enjoyable of all. We’re now in position to cruise and experience the Exumas.

April 7, 2011 – Pimlico Cay to SW Allens Cay in the Northern Exumas

4nm cruised today, 10 minutes under power, 1 hour sailing; 392 nm total – high temp 84 degrees; water temp 78.5 degrees; E wind – 10 knots, seas a light chop

I get up at 6:40am and once again try to tune in Chris Parker on the single sideband radio, expecting nothing but static once again. However, today Chris is right there, and after a few tweaks of the fine tuner, he’s loud and clear. I take notes on his forecast for the Exumas, which sounds very good for the next several days. I’m glad to know I’m in range of his broadcasts, since he provides very detailed and reliable information for cruisers. I go up on the bow to deploy the inflatable. While standing there I find myself feeling like a little kid at the entrance to Disneyland, eager with anticipation at experiencing something unique and special.

After breakfast we climb into our snorkel gear and go on a little explore of the area. We suspend the dinghy between coral rocks with the mooring line, and then climb into our snorkel gear. We slowly swim the edge of the rocky shore of Roberts Cay, pausing over small coral heads and undercuts along the edge to view the fish and look for shells. The current is strong in our face to start, but we soon reach more slack water, and find ourselves just wanting to keep going. We reach the upper end of Roberts Cay and begin feeling an outgoing current, so we turn around and head back for the dinghy. About a third of the way back, while snorkeling in about 4 feet of water, I glance up and see a large dark shape slowly approaching. It’s a shark, about 6 or 7 feet long, with remoras swimming along just beneath it. I quickly look around for Sandy, and see her about 5 feet to my left and a bit ahead of me. She’s looking the other way and slowly kicking her way right at the shark. Before I can reach her she sees the shark and abruptly changes course for the shore. She doesn’t stop until she’s sitting on a rock shelf right on water’s edge, with very wide eyes. She says she saw it, and at first didn’t recognize it to be a shark. She wanted to point out to me this large fish, but then it registered that this large fish also had very large teeth. The shark wasn’t interested in us and just slowly swam on by.

After our snorkel we decide to pull anchor and sail on down to Allen’s Cay. We’d heard on the radio that several boats were making the crossing to Allens today, and we want to get there ahead of the fleet. It’s a beautiful sail down to Allens. I can’t imagine a more delightful experience than gliding along at 4 knots in light air, over turquoise water on the sheltered side of these elongated cays. The main anchorage at Allens is quite crowded, but we head for a nice shallow cove to the south of the main group of boats. Only 1 other boat is anchored there, and there is plenty of room for us inside of him. This boat, Traveler, turns out to be a homemade power boat, with a design dating back to the 1920’s. We visit with the owners, a nice couple from Arkansas, and they invite us to join them for drinks later in the afternoon.

We go out in the dinghy for an afternoon snorkel, and find a couple of very nice coral heads, which are rich with colorful fish. We also find an area which is covered with immature conchs, caller “rollers”. It’s nice to see the next generation coming along.

Our afternoon visit with Don and Gayle is most enjoyable. They’ve sailed all their lives, and have seen the world. They now cruise on their powerboat, which is trailerable. They live in the Ozarks, but like us, are able to cruise on both coasts by trailering their boat.

We didn’t go ashore on the beach at the head of our cove today, because lots of shore parties headed that way all afternoon. We could see the land iguanas which live there, however. Every time a dinghy would near the beach, several would walk out from the brush, obviously looking for handouts. They’re quite sizeable lizards, 2 or 3 feet in length it appears. We’ll go ashore in the morning for a closer look.

April 8, 2011 – SW Allens Cay to Highbourne Cay in the Northern Exumas

3nm cruised today, 10 minutes motoring out of the anchorage, 1 hour under sail – high temp 84 degrees; water temp 79 degrees (82 degrees in our shallow water anchorage) – E wind at 5-10 knots; seas 1 foot or less with light wind riffle

We rise to a mostly cloudy sky and a light easterly breeze. I get up a little too late to hear Chris Parker’s 6:30 am forecast for the Bahamas, but get the general idea with his later reports on weather for the Carribean, and his specific forecasts for boats at sea. While we’re eating breakfast, several boats in the anchorage get underway, and this trend continues throughout the morning, until only 3 of us remain.

After breakfast I walk ashore (it is half tide and we’re sitting in 2 feet of water) to burn trash. Sandy follows a bit later in the dinghy. While we’re on the beach the iguanas appear out of the bunch grass. They approach us without fear, obviously looking for handouts. I have saved a few chunks of apple core from the wastebasket, and I set them out for the iguanas. They clearly relish munching on apple core. They’re about 2 feet long, and the sign on the beach says they can weigh as much as 24 lbs. They’re mostly dark in color, but have coral colored patches on their heads and necks. They resemble prehistoric monsters as depicted in corny 1950’s dinosaur movies like Journey to the Center to the Earth. They are very easy to photograph, and we take lots of pictures. After our iguana experience, we take a short walk on SW Allens Cay, eventually working our way to the south end of the island on the eastern open water side.

We return to the boat and grab our snorkel gear. It’s close to slack high tide, and we want to snorkel around the point, where the current was too strong yesterday. We find conditions excellent, and we venture out into deeper water on the ocean side. The light chop poses no problems, and we glide over several very nice coral heads, including one elkhorn coral formation which shelters a wonderful assortment of reef fish. Sandy spots a nice grouper, and I wish I’d brought my pole spear, but alas, it’s back on the boat. Next time I’ll wear my weight belt and take the spear.

After our snorkel we go on a dinghy cruise around the Allens Cay anchorage. We pass over beautifully colored waters of varying depth, and pause to chat with a pair of Bahamian fishermen. They tell us they’ve been conching, and we gaze over the gunnel of their work boat and see an impressive heap of live conch. They say they’ll haul their take back to Nassau for market. In response to my question as to how long they’ll be out here they say “Till the gas runs out”. They give us some tips on spearing grouper, and we wish each other well as we motor off.

Back at the boat, Sandy prepares lunch as I make ready to get underway. While so engaged, the couple from Amata Marie, whom we met in Nassau, motor up in their dinghy. We share stories about our Yellow Banks crossing. They came over a day after us and didn’t have quite as favorable a wind. They’re anchored out with the rest of our Nassau friends at Highbourne Cay.

I get underway shortly after noon. Sandy spreads lunch out in the cockpit while I motor out of the anchorage, turn the autopilot on, and raise the sails. We have a light easterly breeze, and I’m able to eat my lunch while “Ray” handles the steering. It is a short passage down to Highbourne Cay, and I’m able to follow a shallow water inside route. We sail by the Nassau group of boats, and wave at the couple from Glenice, who have dinghied to shore on the beach we’re passing. Another couple spot us sailing by and run over to us in their dinghy. We tell them we’re headed to the marina to buy ice, and will probably anchor in the shallow little bay just outside the marina.

We continue sailing up to the approach channel to the marina. We’re able to make one tack and enter the channel. I lower the motor so I can drop sails before entering the marina. It has been another delightful sail on a reach. As we enter the marina, Sandy spots some large, dark fins sticking out of the water, just off the end of the marina dock. A guy is cleaning fish there, and as we slowly motor in, we pass close enough to see a dozen or more large sharks schooled up, obviously attracted by the scraps from a fish cleaning operation. They are mostly nurse sharks, with huge broad heads and up to 6 or 7 feet in length. We also see a lemon shark and several rays.

We tie up in the marina right behind an enormous catamaran sailboat, who is taking on fuel. I walk up to the office and inquire if its ok to moor there for an hour or so while we buy ice and pick up a few things in the store. The lady is very nice and says no problem. We buy ice, some hamburger patties, and ice cream bars which we enjoy in the shade of the office porch. Then it’s back to the boat and time to get anchored. I ease my way into the shallow bay just beyond the marina breakwater. It’s nearly low tide, and the water is very shallow, as thin as 2 feet or less. I tilt the motor until it’s just barely able to take in cooling water, and slide over a shallow bar and into a slightly deeper area, where I drop anchor in about 2 feet of water. I’m able to walk over to it and set it squarely and deeply into the sand. We then walk to shore in water that has warmed to 82 degrees. After we’ve finished our shore exploration, we barbeque up some pork chops and enjoy a delicious dinner at the cockpit table.

The only glitch to an otherwise outstanding day is the Wallas stove. It’s been performing perfectly ever since its little hiccup at Bimini, when it failed to start a couple of times. I had called the service man in Seattle at the time, who gave me some tips on getting it working again. I never had to try anything, since it started working reliably again after that phone call. Well, tonight it started fine, but after running a short while, it shut down and refused to start again. I’ll try it in the morning and if it won’t run, I’ll threaten to call the service man again. Maybe that will get it running again.

April 9, 2011 – Highborne Cay – snorkel and fishing day – layover

High temp 82 degrees; water temp 82 degrees – E wind at 5 knots – seas 1 foot, light wind riffle

I get up in time to listen to Chris Parker’s weather at 6:30am. He forecasts beautiful weather in the central Bahamas for the next week. We decide to hang around here today and do some snorkeling on the exposed east side of the island. The cruising guide talks about some excellent reefs in 16 to 20 feet of water. With the settled weather we’re supposed to have today, this will be an excellent chance to do some open water snorkeling.

By 9:30am we have enough water in our little pond to get the boat out over the sand bar. I raise the anchor and tilt the motor up. We clear the bar with inches to spare. I motor out into the channel at the south end of Highborne Cay and into the open waters of Exuma Sound. We raise the main and jib, sailing for a while on a reach, but can only manage around 2 knots in this light wind, so I lower the outboard and motorsail up to the north end of the island. I maneuver the boat in, along what looks to be the outer edge of the coral heads. We’re in around 18 feet of water. With Sandy at the wheel, I point us over a small patch of sand and lower the anchor. It’s tricky business, and I don’t want to get hung up on a coral head. We manage to drop on the sand patch, so I let out scope and have Sandy give a modest tug in reverse. The anchor grabs. I slide my mask on and climb down the lowered swim ladder into the water so I can swim over the anchor. I find it hooked to the edge of a small weathered bit of coral which lies in the midst of the sand patch. It’s not a very secure job, but in this fair weather and light wind, I figure it will do, especially with us staying nearby and able to keep a watch on things.

I hang the kicker motor on the stern of the dinghy, and we putt off in search of some good snorkeling water. We drop the dinghy anchor about 100 yards away from Chinook, and we slip off the dinghy’s pontoons into the water. This is an adventurous venture for us both. We’re a good half mile off shore, in water that’s 15 to 20 feet deep, with plenty of room for big toothy fish to be hanging out. Sandy slings a floatation cushion under her arm, in case she needs to adjust her mask or snorkel. I have my pole spear with me. We hold hands and propell with our flippers. We hover over a sculpture garden of coral formations, many of which stand a good 8 to 10 feet above the sand bottom. They are decorated with lots of sea fans. However, much of the coral appears to be dead. We see a few fish, but not the numbers or variety we’d hoped for. The highlight of our swim is happening across a large eagle ray, probably 4 feet or more across. He gracefully glides through the canyons of coral, totally unconcerned with our presence. We return to the dinghy and change positions, then snorkeled a new area, this time closer to shore. We fnd large rounded coral heads and intricate passageways between them. We both start to chill, and so swim to the beach to warm up. We walk the beach for a half mile in each direction, and pick up a few small shells.

It is time to return to the boat, so we swim out to the dinghy and motor back to our bobbing boat. The anchor has held its position, but the chain briefly snags a coral head as I’m pulling it in. Luckily I’m able to free it without too much effort. I decide to try a little fishing on the way back, but have no luck. We’re going to stay in the same shallow little bay tonight. Tomorrow we’ll move down to Norman’s Cay. The forecast calls for a bit of northeast wind tomorrow night, perhaps in the 12 to 15 knot range, but if we can slip into Norman’s Pond, we’ll be well protected, and should be out of any swell.

April 10, 2011 – Highborne Cay to Normans Pond on Normans Cay

8nm cruised today, 1 ½ hours under power, 1 ½ hours sailing; 412nm total – high temp 84 degrees; water temp 80 degrees ENE wind at 7 knots or less; seas on Exuma Sound 1 to 2 feet, settling down to flat

It’s Sunday, and so we have no weather forecast from Chris Parker. No matter. He took good care of us yesterday morning by predicting that the weather in the Exumas will be terrific for the next 5 to 7 days. Thanks, Chris. We take our time this morning, but are still raising the anchor by 8:30am. We motor slowly, with the outboard tilted up, until we’re across the sand bar and in 6 feet of water. We follow an intricate inside passage past Tea Table and Lobster Cays, taking advantage of the light but favorable ENE wind by using both sails. Occasionally our crooked course takes us too close to the wind, and so I reluctantly run the engine. We exit the Exuma Banks at Saddle Cay Cut, which is in full flood agaist us with the incoming tide. Our 50 hp outboard has no trouble bucking the current, but the water surface is extremely choppy, and I estimate the current at 3 to 4 knots. Cuts like this can be extremely treacherous when a strong wind opposes peak ebb or flood.

Once out on Exuma Sound I rig up a lure and again troll for the big one. This time I try a cedar plug, which is supposed to be a tried and true lure. I motor sail at around 5 ½ knots as we cruise down the east side of Normans Cay. I still haven’t found the formula. We turn toward the entrance to Normans Pond and I must reel in an empty hook.

The approach to Normans Pond is interesting, and made to order for our shallow draft boat. We easily avoid the scattered coral heads which stud the waters just outside the entrance. Our cruising guide and chartbook give good advice on which side of the little island in the approach to favor. The narrow entrance has plenty of water, and once inside it’s just a matter of following the color. Stay in the darkest shades of blue. Avoid anything that looks brown, brownish green, or black. We slide over a bar with 3 foot depth showing on the sounder and we’re in. Normans Pond opens up to us, a peaceful saltwater lake occupying the heart of Normans Cay. The sun is high and hot. We still have a light breeze, and so shut down the engine and ghost along at 3 knots, all the way to the little nook on the east side of the pond which I select for our anchorage. I try to reach my precise anchoring spot under sail, but the breeze turns fickle as we near shore, and I must run the engine to position us perfectly. We anchor in 4 feet of water, about 150 feet from shore. Once anchored, we eat lunch in the cockpit and decide how to spend the rest of the day.

We decide on a dinghy explore, and on the chance that we can talk with someone and gain permission to come ashore (the island is private, and landing by cruisers should be by permission only), we toss in snorkel gear, beach chairs and the beach umbrella. The Sound side of the island boasts some lovely beaches, and we hope to be able to walk over to one of them. We motor up to a dock where several boats are tied up. A cluster of houses sit on a hill above the dock. We putt on by, hoping to see someone, but the place seems deserted except for a dog on one of the boats, who barks a warning to us. We turn around and are about to head back to the boat when I see a guy sitting in the cockpit of one of the boats. We ease up to him. He puts down his guitar and waves a greeting to us. We inquire about coming ashore and he says no problem. I ask his name (he’s Jason) so if anyone asks, we can say Jason gave us permission. He tells us about a place where a road comes down to the water. He says it’s an easy walk over to a nice beach.

We dinghy in that direction, stopping along the way to examine a couple of intruiging caves which are right at the edge of Normans Pond. They appear to be limestone caves, and one looks to go back into the hill for quite a distance. We don’t go ashore, though, since we want to get to that beach. We tie the dinghy up in a small cove where the road comes down. It’s hot and dry inland, with hardly a whisper of wind. I open up our beach umbrella and we both walk down the road in the umbrella’s shade circle. We come to several forks in the road and choose well. After walking about 30 minutes we approach a line of cassarina pines, and we know the beach is near. We see a parked car, and just beyond, about 20 locals are enjoying a day on the beach. We walk past them and head down the beach.

This is a strikingly beautiful beach. The curving sand strip runs for over a mile, between two headlands. About halfway down we set up our beach chairs and umbrella, in the filtered shade of a cassarina tree. Sandy chooses to read and write a description of our snorkel encounter with the eagle ray while I put on my snorkel gear and head out in search of new discoveries. I swim out to a couple of patch reefs, which host the usual assortment of small colorful fish. The one furthest out is most interesting. I then swim toward the rocky headland at the far end of our beach. I find numerous coral heads close to shore. A pair of groupers call one of them home, but I have no spear and so leave them unmolested. I then swim toward the beach and find myself in the midst of a large school of bonefish. They are among the most prized sport fish in the Bahamas. They’re sleek and powerful, most being between 2 and 3 feet long. They appear nearly transparent when viewed underwater through my mask. Only the eyes stand out.

It’s now 3pm and time to head back. The dinghy is right where we left it, and so is the boat. I feel quite secure about leaving them while on excursions such as this, but still look for them with a slight tingle of anxiety. We rinse off in the solar shower, which is really too hot for comfort. The temperature indicator on the plastic bag says the water is 128 degrees, close to the temperature setting on home hot water tanks. We enjoy our afternoon cocktail in the cockpit, under the shade of the bimini. Dinner is hamburgers on the grill, and they are excellent, accompanied by fresh lettuce and tomatoes. I go out in the evening for a try at bait fishing in the pond. My efforts are rewarded with my first catch of the trip, a snapper about the size of a medium sized freshwater perch. It would take a lot of those to make a meal. I toss him back, but leave a baited hook out there as I row back. Maybe something bigger will come along tonight and take the bait.