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.

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