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.

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