May 1, 2011 – Salt Pond to Stella Maris Marina, north end of Long Island

19nm cruised today, 1 hour under power and 4 ½ hours sailing; 610nm total – high temp 84 degrees; water temp 83 degrees – ENE wind at 15 knots; seas inside 2 to 3 feet

It’s Sunday and no weather from Chris Parker. Over coffee I tune in Bahamas Public Broadcast from Nassau on AM radio. We enjoy a nice mix of gospel music, hosted by Reverend Doctor Barry, who interjects worshipful words of wisdom between the music selections. He also seamlessly slides into commercial advertisements for the great shopping variety and bargains at a Nassau store, and in a deep resonant voice also advertises phone cards and encourages patronage at a local laundromat. It seems that Bahamians have a different take on separation of church and state. Also, radio preachers rely on commercial sponsors rather than directly solicited donations to keep their programs on the air. Come to think of it, I actually like that approach.

We sail off the anchor around 8:30am, and make good miles on the fresh breeze we find on our beam. We maintain a speed of 5 knots for much of the morning. We approach the town of Simms around 11am, and head in. We’re looking forward to a lunch break at anchor, followed by a short walk into the town. It’s clearly a town with history. St. Peters Anglical/Episcopal Church is in good repair, and a fascinating cemetery surrounds the church building. Headstones from the mid 1800’s prominently feature the name Simms. The Knowles family is also well represented here. A little further down the road, and on the opposite side of the street, we find an even more striking church. A low stone wall, capped with conch shells, encloses the grounds. The building itself has been abandoned, and it’s a miracle that it still stands. Much of the roof is gone, but the rafters are still in place. The floorboards have totally rotted away, but most of the joists remain, and they somehow still support the ghostly wooden remnants of church pews. Perhaps most remarkably, the weathered old pulpit still stands, inside a low wooden railing, at the front of the church, as though awaiting the shadow of some preacher from Sundays long past.

We return from our walk and resume our northwesterly sail up Long Island’s western shoreline. I’ve put a reef in the main, in deference to the strengthening afternoon wind. We’re headed for Stella Maris Marina, near the north end of Long Island. It’s been forever since we’ve seen the inside of a shower, and we look forward to tying up in a slip for a change. Stella Maris sounds like an upscale marina, and I wonder a bit how expensive it will be. The approach is rather tricky, since the waters leading to the marina are quite shallow, only 3 feet deep at low tide in extensive areas. And we’re arriving at low tide. Our shallow draft once again is invaluable, however, I do try to stay in the recommended channel. It’s marked by a series of white poles, and the cruising guide recommends keeping those poles within a yard or two of your port side. Seeing the water confirms the wisdom of this advice. The “dredged” channel can’t be more than 6 or 8 feet wide, and it’s only a foot or so deeper than the surrounding water. Most larger boats can only enter at high tide. When close I radio our intentions, and am surprised to receive a polite response, confirming that they have slips available, and that we should take our pick. We’re also told that someone will be there to help us with lines. We enter the boat basin at idle speed, and see a couple of empty tie ups, but absolutely no one around to assist. We manage to back in and get secured to the pilings, but not before having to add extensions to the bow lines. These tie ups are obviously intended for very large power boats.

After we secure the boat we take a look around. Apparently the upscale resort is at a remote location, and this is more of a scuba dive and boat repair station. They do have bath room and shower (note the use of singular – just one – lock when in use). At least it’s clean. They also have a pool, of sorts. I think it’s a salt water pool. The shallow end is 4 feet deep and 4 feet wide. The deep end is 20 feet deep. It was apparently designed to be used as a scuba dive training tank. I look around for the office, but am told no one is here right now. Someone will come by the boat later to check us in. They never do. Soon, we’re the only ones around, so we just make ourselves at home. We take leisurely showers, and then barbeque steaks and dine at the picnic table just behind our boat. It’s a nice setting, but somewhat marred by the presence of mosquitoes, flies, and no see ums. We enclose the cabin with bug netting before turning in. Hopefully, someone will be around tomorrow. I’m really curious what they charge for these facilities. If it’s too high, I intend on doing some negiatiating.

May 2, 2011 – Stella Maris Resort Marina to Calabash Bay – Aground, and I’m sure glad I have 3 fully rigged anchors along

11nm cruised today, 2 hours under power and 1 ½ hours sailing – high temp 85 degrees; water temp 78 degrees – ENE wind at 17 to 20 knots; seas 2 to 3 feet inside

I walk out to the marina entrance at 6:30am so I can listen to Chris Parker where there’s a breeze and the mosquitoes won’t bother me. I can tune him in, but the reception is marginal. I hear enough to know that we won’t getting out on the big water today or tomorrow. Wednesday sounds like a better day for our crossing to Conception Island.

While breakfasting on coffee and banana bread, the marina dockmaster walks by the boat and greets us. I walk over to his office and get properly signed in. I’m pleased to see that the rate is just $1/foot, which is extremely reasonable. That rate includes access to facilities at the main resort, which is located on the east side of the island. At 9am we catch the complimentary shuttle over to the resort and walk around. The grounds and buildings are very attractive, and clearly designed to fit in with the island. We walk down to the beach and watch an endless parade of breakers crashing into the reef. In a few days we’ll be out on that rolling Atlantic, hopefully on more friendly seas. We also stop in the resort office and check e’mail on their computer. While so doing, I notice a big headline on the internet. US Navy Seals finally caught up with Osama Bin Laden and killed him in a fire fight. It’s something I worried might never happen, and I can’t help feel that the world is a lot better off without him.

We catch the noon shuttle back to the marina. I walk over to the bank and replenish our supply of cash at the ATM, then we return to the boat, eat lunch, and get underway. It’s a hot afternoon, with little air movement in the marina, but feels much more comfortable when we get out on the banks, where the breeze starts to pick up. Our course takes us dead downwind. I unfurl about ¾ of a jib, and we make around 4 knots. I sail just off the wind enough to keep the sail filled. We quickly cross a big open bay and reach a turning point just off Dove Cay. We swing northward, and I let the sail out a bit, sailing on a broad reach. Our speed picks up to nearly 5 knots on just the partial jib. The winds are quite strong, probably close to 20 knots. We’re in the lee of Hog Cay, so the seas are relatively small, but the strength of the wind is apparent. A little further along, I must harden up and turn a bit more to windward. Our speed drops off, and I finally roll up the jib and proceed by motor. The seas out here are 2 to 3 feet, and the boat heels close to 10 degrees with just a bare pole. We enter Calabash Bay and motor to the north end, where an appealing little shallow water channel leads into a well protected bay. It’s just the kind of place I like to tuck into.

We reach the entrance, and I can read the water quite well. The channel narrows, but just a short way in I see a promising bay. When the water depth drops to below 3 feet I tip the motor up, and raise the center board and rudders. The winds are still strong here and on our beam, and I have to crab the boat to maintain steerage in the narrow channel. The channel narrows further, and I fail to notice the strong current which is pushing us ahead. While studying what looks to be a rock reef right in the middle of the channel, the stern drifts right onto the beach on our port side. I quickly shift into neutral and am helpless to prevent the wind from pushing us onto the sand. There we sit.

I’m not particularly alarmed by this development. We’re sitting on soft sand, and the tide is rising. However, I know that the boat won’t get itself off on her own. It’s going to take a lot of work and all 3 of my rigged anchors to get her free and moving again. The pressure of 15 knots of wind pinning us to the beach, coupled with 3 or 4 knots of current running in this narrow channel will complicate the task. First thing I’ll do is row out in the dinghy with the main working anchor, so I can set it at right angles to the boat, on the sand bar across the channel from shore. Did I say row? I start to loosen the oars and discover, to my dismay, that one of the oar blades is missing. I have no idea how it came off. Perhaps it banged into a piling at the marina. Who knows. It’s just gone. I install the kicker motor instead, and run the anchor out and set it in the sand bar. Next, I rig the stern anchor and run it off the stern and set it in the sand bar, astern of the boat. With these two anchors set, I haul on the bow anchor with Sandy standing in the water and pushing. I manage to get the bow angled out and floating, and then repeat the process with the stern anchor line. She’s now afloat, about 10 feet from shore. Then I grab the danforth anchor, which I always carry, fully rigged, on the bow. I dinghy it to a point past the stern anchor and set it in the sand bar to act as a spring line. With it in place, I’m able to retrieve the bow working anchor and the stern anchor. This allows the boat to reverse direction, so that it’s facing into the current and out of this trap. The wind still presses her in to shore, however I’m not concerned with that. I know I can haul in on the anchor line and get her floating again, and pointed in the right direction. With these wind and current conditions, I’m not sure I could have managed without all 3 anchors. As it is, 3 anchor rodes can sure weave themselves into an amazing tangle. It takes me almost as long to clean up the rats nest as it did to kedge us off the beach.

After all this, it is an easy call to abandon any thoughts of anchoring in this sheltered pond. We head back out the way we entered, and drop the hook just off the beach in front of the Cape Santa Maria Fishing Club Resort. The series of two story buildings located on the beach may just give us a little wind break effect. It’s rather late in the day before we get around to fixing dinner. The breeze is still blowing as the sun sets. I rig the stabilizing sail to cut down on our swing. Even though the wind is right off the beach, a refracting swell still rolls in here. I’m really worn out from the afternoon’s exertions.

May 3, 2011 – Layover day at Calabash Bay, Long Island

High temp 84 degrees; water temp 78 degrees – ENE wind at 15 knots; seas 1 foot inside, close to shore

Chris Parker’s forecast is holding consistent with his analysis of the last couple of days. It’s still breezy this morning, and supposed to remain so much of the day, but a little lighter than yesterday. Tomorrow is supposed to be lighter yet. I’ll listen in tomorrow before deciding whether to try crossing over to Conception Island.

After breakfast we take off by dinghy for the mangrove creek where we grounded yesterday. We have a sketch map which shows a small townsite a little way up, and we want to check it out. We follow the creek until we reach a series of docks and a low bridge, both of which are shown on our map. We tie the dinghy up there, and start hiking. We soon reach a main road, and walk a mile or so down it. We stop in at a small convenience store and buy a few items. On our way back we take a side trip on a road which leads up a hill toward the ocean. Near the top we visit with a woman who is meticulously building a stone wall around her property. She’s planted palm trees in the rocky ground. One day her landscaping efforts will transform the site into a beautiful shaded garden. She has tethered several goats in the shade, where they graze contentedly. Across the road I spot a banana tree growing in a deep hole. On this island people for years have practised a form of agriculture called pothole farming. They either blast holes in the rock or take advantage of naturally occuring holes like this one, and place soil in them, and then plant. The lady we talked with said that the banana tree was planted years ago, and it now regularly bears fruit. The hole it grows in must be 15 feet deep.

On the walk back I keep a good look out for pieces of trash which I might use in fabricating a blade for my dinghy oar. I haul a piece of plastic back, along with a short length of tree limb, which might fit inside the oar shaft. Back at the boat, I whittle the wood down in diameter until it fits tightly into the aluminum oar handle. I decide to give up on my piece of plastic and, instead, try using a snorkeling flipper. I slide the wooden limb stub into the fin, and clamp it in place with a hose clamp. It looks like it might work. I take the dinghy out for a test row, and sure enough, I’m back in the rowing business. It’s rather crude and looks pretty funny, but it will do until I can purchase a suitable replacement.

We spend a lazy afternoon on the boat, reading and hoping that the wind will abate. Later on I dinghy over to a sloop which has dropped anchor nearby. The boat is Calypso, and the young couple say hello and invite me aboard. They are on their honeymoon, and have spent this special time on a South American back pack trip, followed by this sailing cruise. They recall seeing us in George Town. I ask them to stop by our boat in the evening, after dinner, for tea and cookies. We continue our visit when they dinghy over. The conversation comes very easily, and we have fun sharing stories. He’s Polish and she’s of Italian background, and they live in Toronto Canada. They bought this older Catalina boat specifically for this trip, and they’ve been fixing it up along the way. They plan on selling the boat at the end of the cruise. So many different ways of approaching this cruising thing. They want to go over to Conception Island like us, but they can’t motor very fast, and so are hoping for a sailing wind. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like the wind will be anything but on the nose for the next several days. That means that we’ll likely move ahead of them, but maybe they’ll catch up to us when we reach Eleuthra. Before they return to their boat, I tell Macek I’ll radio them in the morning to give them the latest Chris Parker forecast.

May 4, 2011 – Calabash Bay to Conception Island

20nm cruised today, 4 hours under power and ½ hour sailing – high temp 78 degrees; water temp 78 degrees – ENE wind at 12 knots; ocean swell 6 feet with 8 second interval; 3 to 4 foot wind driven seas; wind, swell and seas all on the nose

I feel the wind die down in the middle of the night. The forecast of favorable conditions is holding up. When I rise at 6:20am the breeze is slightly south of east, but following a little rain shower it backs to ENE, right where Chris Parker says it will be. Wind strength is down, though, and we shall make our move out to Conception Island. Macek and Christina aren’t sure if they will leave today. We wave goodbye as we motor out, a little after 8am. We’re able to motor sail a bit at first, weaving our way between coral heads and heading for deep water. It’s a strange feeling, approaching the abrupt boundary between shallow and the deep. We cross from vivid aqua into deep violet-blue, and I know we’re entering an environment of powerful forces. The Atlantic swell, stirred up by winds and weather systems from as far away as Africa relentlessly surges toward us. The ocean swell is running 6 feet, and wind driven seas are 3 to 4 feet. Periodically, a wind driven sea climbs up onto the back of a swell, and we rise up onto a 10 foot high mound of moving water. The swells are spaced enough that we rarely pound, however we do a lot of porpoising. As we approach Cape Santa Maria, the northern tip of Long Island, we swing a couple of miles out to sea, to avoid the shallow shelf which extends way out. Even so, the sea bottom rises abruptly to a depth of 60 feet. This causes the open ocean swell to heave even more abruptly. This very bouncy ride continues until we finally cross into deep ocean water once again.

While crossing over this shallow spot we get a radio call from Calypso Macek and Christina have decided to cross over to Conception after all. We look back and see them sailing round Cape Santa Maria, close in to shore. We look forward to sharing our time at Conception Island with them.

Conception Island is about 15nm from Cape Santa Maria, and we approach the northwest anchorage shortly before 1pm. The very large motor yacht Terrible is anchored there, along with 2 large sailboats. The anchorage is very roomy, however, and we’re able to move in to shallower water and anchor in a very nice spot. Once hooked, I put the sail covers on, tidy up the boat, and hang the kicker on the dinghy’s stern. We watch as Calypso‘s mast appears on the horizon. As they draw closer, I’m puzzled as their boat takes an unexplainable turn to the south. I try radioing but get no answer. They swing back toward us, and I get a pained radio call from Macek. He’d hooked a big Mahi Mahi, which was why they’d veered off course. After a short battle he tried hauling it into the boat, but the fish broke his 80lb test line and got away. He is utterly distraught.

They anchor off our starboard beam. We decide to go for an afternoon snorkel. We dinghy out to the reef which extends off the north end of Conception, anchor the dinghies, and slide into the water. What we find saddens us. The coral formations here are mostly white and dying. We see lots of colorful fish, but the reef itself has little of the complexity of a healthy reef. Matt is particularly affected, since he recalls snorkeling here just 7 years ago, and seeing a totally different world. We fear that all the reefs around Conception are similarly suffering.

We return to our boats to fix dinner. After dinner we are invited to go over to their boat for drinks. We suggest watching a movie on the laptop, and they think that’s a fine idea. We plan on laying over here tomorrow. When we go over to their boat we’ll make plans on how to spend our time here.

May 5, 2011 – Layover day at Conception Island

12nm cruised today, all under power; 654nm total – high temp 80 degrees; water temp 78 degrees – NE wind at 12 to 15 knots; seas 3 feet near island

Since this is a layover day, we sleep in a bit later than usual and I miss hearing the weather on SSB. I’ll catch up with Chris Parker tomorrow morning. After coffee and breakfast I go ashore, and walk across to the other side of the island with snorkel gear for a quick explore. I’m hoping to find some vibrant coral reefs, but things look much the same as on the north point. On the way back to the boat I dinghy over to the tender for Terrible, which has dropped off a couple of guys for a swim near the shore. I ask the guy on the tender about snorkeling opportunities in the vicinity. In the midst of his reply he gets a call on his radio. It’t the Terrible captain, chewing him out for talking to “that sailor”; and not paying attention “to his people”. Such are the ways for captain, crew and guests aboard a mega yacht.

We get together with Macek and Christina on their boat to plan out our day. Sandy and Christina will go for a walk on the beach while Macek and I take our boat out for some deep sea fishing. Macek is still smarting from the mahi mahi he lost yesterday, and he hopes for a second chance. As for me, I’m just hoping to finally land a fish. The wives are hoping we’ll bring home something for supper.

We assemble our gear, and Macek suggests that we try trolling 4 lines, each with something different. I rig one on my downrigger, so it can be fished a bit deeper. We troll back and forth along the dropoff, where the depth rapidly plunges from 60 feet down to over 1000 feet. After several passes I get a strike on the downrigger pole. Fish on! I slow the motor and grab the pole, while Macek pulls in the other lines as quickly as possible and fetches both the landing net and the gaff. The fish turns out to not be a mahi mahi, which we were hoping for, but its also not a shark or barracuda, which we feared. In fact, we’re not really sure just what it is, but it does look edible. It’s just medium sized, so Macek lands it with the net. After we bring it aboard and kill it with squirts of rubbing alcohol to the gills, I dig out my fish identification guides to try and figure out what it is. Nearest we can figure, it’s some sort of jack, and we will try it out for dinner tonight.

Sandy and Christina make elaborate preparations for dinner. Christina marinades the fish, and Sandy prepares vegetables for roasting on the barbeque. She also whips up a pineapple upside down cake, which Christina bakes in her oven. The dinner itelf is a triumph. Chilled reisling wine goes perfectly with the fish, which turns out to be excellent and very nicely prepared. Cole slaw on the side, and a big slice of upside down cake for dessert. We finish the evening with a laptop slide show of our Sea of Cortez cruise. This turns out to be another late evening.

Tomorrow I will definitely want to listen to Chris Parker, because we plan on crossing over to Cat Island. This will be a 30 mile open water crossing, and while the wind should be favorable for sailing, I don’t want to get out into excessively strong winds and high seas. It’s become quite breezy this evening. I’m hoping things will settle down during the night.

May 6, 2011 – Conception Island to Hawksnest Creek, Cat Island

29nm miles cruised today, 3 hours under power and 4 hours sailing; 683nm total – high temp 85 degrees; water temp 81 degrees – E wind at 10-12 knots; seas 4 foot early, 2 foot late

I tune Chris Parker in at 6:35am, with good reception. His forecast is ideal for our crossing today to Cat Island. Further, the next several days sound excellent as well. We have been so fortunate with weather conditions on days when we have exposed crossings. I wonder how much longer our good fortune can continue.

We’re just getting started with breakfast when I see Macek and Christina making ready to get underway. Macek gestures that he’ll call me on the radio later, to get the weather report. We quickly finish breakfast and get ready to raise our anchor. I’ll remove the sail covers while Sandy motors us out of the anchorage. The breeze is around 10, out of the east. I shake the reef out of the main, and then set both sails. Our course to Cat Island takes us on a broad reach, however the residual swell is running fairly high, around 5 feet, and the wind is fairly light. We wallow a bit in the swell, and can only make around 3.5 knots with just the sails. I don’t want to be out on the water for 8 to 10 hours, and so figure I need to do at least 4 knots. I start the engine and motor sail for the first couple of hours. Every so often the wind picks up a bit and I try shutting the engine off, but soon our speed drops off, and I power up again. When I am running the motor, however, I only need about 1000rpm to average 4.5 to 5 knots, with the sails helping.

Shortly after getting sails up, I put both fishing lines out, hoping I’ll finally hook a mahi mahi. I’m encouraged by a flock of sea birds which are actively feeding just ahead of us. We troll right through the area and sure enough, I hear the reel buzz with the sound of a strike. As I reach for the rod I see the tip jerk several times, and then go limp. Definitely a strike, however, not a hook up. Darn.

About 10 miles out the breeze picks up and once again I shut the motor off. This time, however, the wind sustains its speed, and we easily average 4 to 4.5 knots. The seas also settle down, which helps our speed. I think we’re getting a little boost from a current, which is running in the same direction as the wind. It makes for a very comfortable and efficient passage. Calypso is in sight for the entire crossing, maintaining a 5 to 6 mile lead, owing to her earlier departure and faster sailing speed. As we near Cat Island, we can only see the top one third of her mast and mainsail, but she still gives us something to steer toward.

Macek rounds the southwestern tip of Cat Island to see if the bay on the far side will be suitable for anchoring. He finds that it is very rolly there, with refracting swell. Christina radios that they’re heading for Hawksnest Creek instead. It’s a very sheltered tidal creek which should serve well as an anchorage.

We follow their lead and head for Hawksnest. I drop sails near the entrance, and we motor in past the marina. The anchoring spots are a short distance beyond the marina entrance, and we see Calypso riding at anchor in the middle of the channel. We move past them and drop anchor around 100 yards further up the creek. We both set two anchors, Bahamian mooring style, with one fore and one aft, with both attached to the boat at the bow. This will keep us pinned in the middle of the channel when the tidal current reverses.

After anchoring we tend to boat chores, and then we all pile into our dinghy and motor down to the marina to look around and go for a walk. It feels good to get off the boat and stretch our legs. This is a big sport fishing center, and the marina is filled with extremely large sport fishing boats, with great elongated hulls and lofty tuna towers. A short distance beyond the marina is the air strip, well populated with expensive looking planes. A twin engine executive jet taking off speaks volumes regarding the clientelle of this location.

We all go back to our boat for cocktails and a snack. As evening sets in I dinghy Macek and Christina back to their boat. We barbeque up some pork chops and enjoy a brilliant sunset as we dine in the cockpit. Darkness falls quickly. It’s almost completely silent here. The tinkle of the tidal current against our boat hull and the distant cry of a marsh bird are the only sounds.

May 7, 2011 – Hawksnest Creek to Smith Bay, Cat Island

20nm cruised today, 4 hours under power and 2 ½ hours sailing – high temp 81 degrees; water temp 78 degrees – E wind at 5 to 10 knots; sea surface light wind riffle

Our bug netting has worked well, and in the quiet, protected waters of Hawksnest Creek, we wake following a restful night. Such has not been the case on board Calypso however. Maciek and Christina report that they were invaded last night by both mosquitoes and no see ums, and they had a miserable night.

We retrieve our anchors and get underway by 7:30am. The air is nearly calm as we motor out of Hawksnest Creek and out onto the shallow waters on the east side of Cat Island. We motor around the southwestern tip of the island and steer a course across the bight, toward the aptly named settlement of New Bight.

We plan to visit one of the most remarkable places in the Bahamas. On the summit of the highest hill in the Bahamas, at 206 feet above sea level, one will find The Hermitage. This unique and sublime collection of structures is perched on the very top of rocky Mt. Alvernia. The Hermitage was built in the early 1900’s by Father Jerome, a well known and beloved figure here in the Bahamas. An architect by training, he came to the Bahamas as an Anglican priest in 1908, following a devastating hurricane which had struck the islands. He commenced to building a number of churches, using solid coral rock which could resist powerful winds. He later converted to Roman Catholicism and continued building churches. He built The Hermitage on the model of an Old World hermitage, and it served as his home until his death in the late 1950’s.

We dinghy ashore near the Batelco tower and tie up to a cassarina pine root on the beach. The road to The Hermitage is well marked, and we can see the structure on the hilltop a short distance away. We walk past recently burned patches of ground, which have been cleared to provide places for growing vegetables. One very stony patch has been planted with cabbages. After walking less than a mile up the hill the road ends and a steep path winds up the last few hundred yards. The Stations of the Cross mark waypoints along the rocky climb. Mortared steps and notches carved into rock take us up the hill. It’s almost as though it’s been built at ¾ scale. The structure includes a bell tower, chapel, wash room, sleeping room, and numerous other chambers, all connected by winding passageways. Windows afford sweeping views of the surrounding island landscape and sea beyond. Drains and gutters are build into the stone floor, and the hilltop. The entire site has been bordered with a low mortared wall, which captured rainwater. A cistern and hand pump at the low point provided Father Jerome with his drinking water. We’re pleased to see the site well cared for. Concrete roofs and wooden shutters have been freshly painted. The buildings are completely free of grafitti, and no litter detracts from the beauty of the place.

On our way back down we decide to search for the local grocery store. Sandy steps into the C and O Bakery and gets directions from Linn Ann, the proprietor. While there, she also buys a fresh loaf of cinnamon swirl bread. Since the grocery is a mile down the road, we run down the beach in the dinghy. We make a guess on where to land, but end up guessing right. A short walk inland takes us to the well stocked New Bight grocery store. We pick up a few items, including more soda pop, a cake mix, a bag of ice, and a bottle of coconut flavored rum (from the adjacent liquor store). We walk quickly back to the dinghy, so we can get the ice into the cooler before it completely melts.

We raise anchors and sails, with intent of sailing around to Smith Bay, where Maciek and Christina have learned from other cruisers about an abandoned field where we can pick free tomatoes. We just have a light breeze to work with, but decide to try and sail the 8 miles to Smith Bay. We have to swing wide, around a shallow reef which extends well out from shore. The wind is almost directly astern, which makes sailing difficult. I try going wing on wing, and manage ok, with lots of fussing with the jib. Near the point I’m startled to see a depth reading of 2.5 feet. The water looks deeper, and I conclude that I’m getting bogus readings from the depth sounder. This is very disturbing, since the unit is quite new. I rely on visual feedback and continue the sail, which turns into something of a race. I have the early lead over the faster Calypso, which is sailing downwind on just the jib. After we round the point, however, Maciek raises his main and steadily closes the gap. As we near our destination of Smith Bay he moves past us. It’s been a fun sail.

We fix a late dinner, and with conditions nealy ideal, see a distinct green flash as it dips below the horizon. We wrap up our busy day with an evening dinghy visit to Calypso. Christina has made a tub of popcorn, and Maciek pours drinks for everyone. We exchange pictures we’ve taken of each others’ boats while sailing, and I show Maciek places we enjoyed while cruising the Abacos in 2004. They will ge going through that area in a few weeks. It’s quite late by the time we return to our boat and turn in for the night.

May 8, 2011 – Smith Bay to Eleuthra Point

41nm cruised today, all motor sailing at 5.5 to 6 knots, averaging 2300 rpm; 744nm total – high temp 81 degrees; water temp 78 degrees – N to NE wind at 5 to 10 knots; light chop with Atlantic swell less than 2 feet

It’s warm and still when we rise. Since it’s Sunday and Chris Parker doesn’t broadcast weather today, I don’t get up until 7am. Sandy fixes french toast with the loaf of cinnamon swirl bread she bought at the bakery yesterday. Excellent. While putting pots and pans away, she discovers water in the port side bilge. Not excellent. I taste the water, and it’s fresh. Apparently I have a leak in a connection for the Plastimo bladder water tank. I’m not looking forward to locating the source of the leak. For now, I pump the water into the sink with the hand bilge pump.

Chris radios us and says they’re ready to go ashore. We dinghy over and pick them up. We’re off in search of the tomato patch. We take a left on the main road, but don’t find the cross-island road that Maciek is looking for. We do find several coconut palms which have dropped a good number of coconuts. We gather up several when we backtrack to try the other direction. We flag a local down and ask him where the cross over road is. He gives us directions, however, he also says that, because of the drought here, the tomato season is pretty much over. We decide to give up on the tomato picking idea and focus on our coconuts. I dinghy out to the boat and grab my hatchet, along with a couple of containers. We whack away at coconuts and manage to decant several containers full of coconut water. We sample the coconut jelly from the green coconuts, and it’s excellent.

As we head back to the boat, I tell Chris and Maciek that I think it’s time we made tracks north. We need to get to James Cistern on Eleuthra for our volunteer mission week in the next couple of days, and we have a long way to go. We drop Chris and Maciek off at their boat and bid them farewell for now. They’re pretty sure they’ll catch up with us while we’re on Eleuthra, so this is not really goodbye yet. We’ve really enjoyed each other’s company, and look forward to a little more time together in the next week or so.

I raise anchor around 11am and we head out from Smith Bay. I raise the main and jib, but in the light air, I soon furl the jib and rely on the motor. For the first hour or so, the little breeze we have is on the nose. I study the chart, to try and determine a destination. We could just go up Cat Island toward the north end, and stay in the Bennett Harbour area, however, that would not give us very many miles. Little San Salvador Island would be an ideal distance for the day, but our cruising guide informs us that Holland America Cruise Lines owns the island, and prohibits anchoring there. I’m not sure if they have the legal right to do this, but the uncertainty eliminates this option. The third choice is to change course and head directly across for Eleuthra Island. I scrutinize the chart for mooring options. I see a marina at Davis Harbour, but it’s just too far. We wouldn’t reach there until after dark, and you just don’t arrive at unfamiliar places after dark in these waters. My chart book shows a little anchorage near the southern tip of Eleuthra, at Eleuthra Point. We can make it in there by 6:30pm if we maintain a speed of 5.5 to 6 knots on the 30 mile crossing. That looks like the most appealing option, and I take it.

With the new course we have a bit of a sailing angle, so I set the jib in addition to the main, and we motor sail. As the breeze improves, I gradually ease back on the throttle until I’m running at around 2100 rpm. Initially, we’re cruising over 25 foot depths, but the water gradually deepens. When we reach 50 feet of water I let the fishing line out. About half an hour later the reel zings. Fish on! I slow the throttle and grab the pole. I definitely have a fish, and it’s staying down. The barracuda I hooked on the way to Long Island jumped, and I’m hoping this deep running fish is not a barracuda. While I’m cranking on the reel, Sandy pulls the landing net out from down below. When I get the fish in close I can see it’s some sort of snapper, and likely to be excellent eating. Sandy nets the fish, and then the work begins. I spray alcohol in its gills to kill it, and then remove it from the net. I fillet it on the fiberglass cockpit seat. I dip seawater in a bucket to rinse the fillets off and clean up the cockpit. All this is done with “Ray” handling the steering. We never have to slow down, and with such a long way to go, that’s worth a lot. We’ll have some good fish dinners in the days to come.

This is a lonely stretch of water. The radio is virtually silent, and I see only one other boat, way out on the horizon. We pass by Little San Salvador Island, and at around 10 miles out, catch our first glimpse of the southern tip of Eleuthra Island. I monitor the display on the GPS, adjusting the throttle setting as the wind increases or decreases our speed. I apply just enough throttle to keep us moving at 6 knots. We reach our destination right at 6:30pm, which gives us enough light to see bottom on our approach.

Eleuthra Point is a lovely place. A series of step stone islets project out from the point. Their steep edges remind us a bit of the landforms at Cabo San Lucas at the tip of the Baja Penninsula. An old abandoned lighthouse stands on the bluff at the end of the Point. A scenic crescent beach frames the anchoring cove, and coconut palms provide a tropical skyline. We look forward to going ashore in the morning and exploring this lovely area.

I add some pineapple tang, lime juice and rum to our coconut water, and the concoction turns out to be great. Hamburgers on the grill make for a simple, quick dinner. This anchorage is a bit rolly, with a refracting swell sneaking around the point. I’ve rigged a bridle to the anchor rode, in hopes that it will keep us pointed into the swell and reduce our rocking motion. It seems to work fairly well, so long as the breeze keeps pressure on the hull. When the wind backs off, however, the boat puts her broadside to the swell, and we rock.

I think this is the first anchorage on our entire cruise when I can see absolutely no artificial lights except for our own. No house lights. No anchor lights on other boats. No navigation lights. No lights of any kind. The stars and a crescent moon provide our only night time illumination. Small waves swoosh almost continuously on the nearby coral sand beach. Peace and solitude be here.

May 9, 2011 – Point Eleuthra to Cape Eleuthra Marina

19nm cruised today, mostly all motor sailing close hauled; 763nm total – high temp 85 degrees; water temp 78 degrees – NW wind at 10 knots; seas 2 feet

The air is heavy and still when I rise just before sunrise. A strange smell pervades, sort of like eggs frying in butter. I have no idea what’s causing this. Chris Parker promises mild weather, with little wind, for the next several days. We hurry breakfast and hop in the dinghy for a beach walk. The sand is hard packed, and warm pink in color. After our walk up the beach, we backtrack and climb up to the old lighthouse. The concrete and coral rock structure is in fairly good condition, but no longer houses a light. An automated light, powered by a solar panel, sits atop a rusty tapered pipe pole. From the bluff where the lighthouse stands, we gaze down on a beautiful beach on the open ocean side. A few hundred feet off the beach, dark colored coral reef patches are everywhere. I leave Sandy at the beach and hike back to fetch the dinghy. Our snorkel gear is already in the dinghy. We pull on our wetsuits and run a short distance out from shore in the dinghy. The snorkeling is very good, with lots of interesting coral heads, deep canyons in between, and the usual assortment of reef fish. We enjoy watching a large sting ray as he soars over the bottom. The coral is in better shape than at Conception Island, but still not ideal. Dying coral is very much in evidence here as well.

We return to the boat around 11am, and prepare to get underway. I set a course for Cape Eleuthra, about 19 miles away. A surprising northwest wind has kicked up. From Chris Parker’s report, I’d expected northeast wind, and with less velocity than the 10 knots we’re seeing. The angle doesn’t work very well for us. I end up motor sailing, close hauled, at around 4 knots, with the engine set at 1800 rpm. The ride is not too bad. I decide to head for the marina at Cape Eleuthra, where we can fill our gas tanks and take on water. Showers would also be nice.

I radio the marina and confirm that they have a tie up available. We arrive around 4pm. I stop at the fuel dock first and we take on around 15 gallons of gas. Our slip is located on the opposite side. Maneuvering into these piling slips is always a pain, and this one is no exception. Even without current and wind, it’s a challenge getting tied up. Sandy comes back from the office with a nice sack of ice, so tall rum cokes provide a refreshing break after the tieup hassle.

We are in the land of sport fishing boats. On either side of us, huge sport fishers occupy slips. We are smaller, by 7 feet, than the tender for Boomer, which is owned by the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad Company. This boat has a 4000 horsepower inboard, and the steering station atop the tuna tower is higher above the water than the top of our mast. Its 33 foot center console tender is powered by a pair of Mercury 300 horsepower outboards. It can run at 60 mph.

This place is packed with such boats, all here for a big fishing tournament. It’s kind of a mix of testoserone and beer bellies. Young, darkly tanned studs serve as deck hands, polishing stainless, rigging poles, setting out jigs, hooks and leaders, and preparing bait fish. Boomer will head out for a day of fishing tomorrow, around 9am, with something like 50 mullet baits rigged. They’re worth about $3 apiece. These mullets aren’t even the baits. They’re just teasers, trailed behind the big boat to simulate a school of bait fish. Ballyhoo are the real bait, and the goal is blue marlin. A good days fishing would be to hook just one or two of these huge fish. The beer bellies are the fishermen. Balding gray pates and expansive midsections seem to characterize most of them. They arrive in taxis, with their airline roll behind luggage in tow, for a ride on these huge boats and a chance to crank in a marlin with rods the thickness of broom handles and stainless reels bigger than coffee cans. Boomer has his stern underwater floodlights on, which causes the water all around to glow at night. Mr. Marlin, on our other side, has rock music booming. This music entertains the crew of locals who spend hours washing and polishing the boat after each day’s run. The large screen tv in the cabin is tuned to news, the FOX Newschannel, what else. Needless to say, we feel very much out of place here, but on the other hand, those showers did feel nice.

May 10, 2011 – Cape Eleuthra Marina to James Cistern – Rough time crossing the Bight of Eleuthra

33nm cruised today, all under power, a couple of hours motor sailing; 796nm total – high temp 86 degrees; water temp 81 – NE wind at 12 to 15 knots; seas 3 to 4 feet and on the nose

I’m up at dawn, as usual, so I can tune in the weather. Chris Parker forecasts 15 knot winds out of the northeast in the afternoon, which will put the wind almost on our nose. We will be in the Bight of Eleuthra and out of the Atlantic swell. I figure it will be a bouncy motoring cruise, uncomfortable but manageable. Before we depart the marina I fill the water tanks and get rid of all our garbage. Exiting our slip is almost as hard as getting in, with a bit of a side wind and lines that hang up on the pilings. We manage, however, without mishap, and soon are headed out of the marina.

Our route takes us out of the deep waters of Exuma Sound and into the shallow Bight of Eleuthra. The transition involves passing through some tricky water, which affords a couple of navigable channels closely bounded by shoal draft and drying sand bars. I try to set waypoints for the Davis Channel on the fly, but as we proceed, I find that the Garmin GPS display looks quite different from the paper chart. Instead of the Davis Channel, the Garmin tells me I’m in Blunder Channel. Not auspicious. I disengage “Ray” and steer manually, reading water color and relying on the GPS display. I stay in the deepest water available, and we never get shallower than 6 feet. After a mile or two of this, we get clear of the shallow water and into the 25 to 30 feet deep waters of the Bight of Eleuthra. I set a waypoint for James Cistern, 25 miles distant and on a due north course. The wind is just slightly east of north, and I fly a partial jib when the wind angle allows. The wind picks up as the afternoon progresses, just like Chris predicted. Seas increase from 2 feet to 3 and then 4 feet, steep faced and close together. I cruise at 5 ½ knots, but as the seas get higher we start to pound, and the spray flies. We have no choice but to plow ahead. Sandy notices water coming in through the forward hatch. I go below to dog it down tighter. It doesn’t seem to help, and we’re almost to our destination before we realize that the cause of our leak is the solar powered vent fan, which we’ve inadvertantly left open. Oh well, we’ll just have to dry out the mattress pad. Around 3pm the seas begin to ease as our course angle brings us closer to the shore of Eleuthra Island. The pounding eases, but I still manage to get sprayed by the occasional sea. The water flattens out as we glide into the James Cistern harbor. We anchor fairly close to shore, in 6 feet of water over sand, and just a short distance away from the dinghy dock. As long as the wind stays either northerly or easterly, this will be a suitable anchorage. South or west wind would be another story, and we’d have to relocate.

We grab the camera and cell phone, and run over to the dinghy dock in our inflatable. I secure the motor to the dinghy and padlock the dinghy to the piling with a long cable. Several locals are hanging out at the head of the dock, so I ask them if they know where we can find Abe McIntyre. They say “Oh yeah, everybody know Abe.” They give us good directions to the Bahamas Methodist Habitat headquarters. I think knowing Abe is a very good thing in this community.

We walk down the waterfront road to the large white Methodist Church, and take a side road up the hill. We follow the signs, and are near the camp when we see a car driving toward us. I wave at the car, and the lady behind the wheel pulls over. We explain why we’re here, and she tells us that Abe is off island until Friday. However, another project coordinator is due back at 5pm. We decide to walk on up to the camp and wait for her. We’re greeted by a scrawny, yowly cat and a very friendly dog. We hang around until after 5, and then start walking back down the road. We pass a house along the way, and see a young man out in the yard. He tells us that Cassandra, the program coordinator, lives there and has just returned. We knock on the door. She greets us warmly and invites us in. We learn that a large group of volunteers from the States is due in on Sunday to work on a project. We decide to hang around for the next several days and the join up with the project group next week. Cassandra offers to show us around tomorrow. We’ll catch up on internet and help out around the camp area, and maybe rent a car for some sightseeing before the group arrives. We’re feeling really good about the situation here. Just while walking over to the camp we’ve talked with several folks, and they recognize us on our way back, pulling over to see how we’re making out.

We walk into Kel-D’s to see about dinner. It’s a bar/restaurant, and they’re not really serving dinner right now, but the guy inside says he could fix us up something. We settle on grilled chicken breasts and salad. He brings Sandy a cold 7-UP and I have a frosty Kalik. He’s got some great Bahamian music playing, and the dinner is excellent. He’s scored the chicken deeply, seasoned it perfectly, and grilled it quickly on a hot grill to preserve the moistness. We’ve never tasted better. He recommends some things to see and do while we’re here. We ask him about the Monday pizza night, and learn that his wife fixes up conch and lobster pizza. I think we’ll be back at Kel-D’s for pizza on Monday.

After dinner, we walk outside to a beautiful sunset. Our boat is sitting quietly in the bay, right in front of town. The slightest of breezes ruffles the water. Sounds of town fill the air. Earlier in the day it was too hot for folks to be very active. In the cooling evening, we hear kids laughing and playing, dogs barking, and people talking on their cell phones while sitting on benches near the water’s edge. Cars parade down the road, music playing, and horns beeping as they pass friends and acquaintences. Another day is winding down for the residents of James Cistern.