Journal 9; Bahama Bound
January 21 - February 22, 2008
We sadly left our newly adopted home of Brunswick, Georgia on January 23 at 15:00 hours for an overnight sail to St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the United States . We planned to sail over night so that we could arrive St. Augustine during daylight hours. All went according to plan other than the predicted north winds never materialized so we motored the entire trip. While waiting for the Bridge of Lions opening at St. Augustine a thick fog suddenly rolled in so we quickly anchored outside of the channel. The fog was so thick that we could barely see boats to the side of us and we waited 2 ½ hours for the fog to lift.
Besides visiting one of the most charming cities in the US, we needed ‘a good mechanic’ to work on our generator. We had come to nickname our generator “The Spoiled Child” because he would throw temper tantrums occasionally by overheating. He was also leaking oil. Amazing what money can do and the overheating problem was solved by installing a new heat exchanger.
We spent a week in St. Augustine either waiting for parts or favorable weather to go further south. It was still cold in St. Augustine and we were longing to get back to the ‘70/80 Club’. That is, if its not 70-80 degrees outside, move the boat!
On February 1st we continued our journey south by picking up anchor when the winds shifted from south to west. Leaving St. Augustine turned into an adventure when two crab pots next to El Regalo suddenly disappeared underwater. Our worst fear was they had somehow wrapped around propeller so I did not want to put El Regalo in gear and
further wrap the lines around the prop. In the meantime, with our anchor free, we were slowly drifting toward another boat that was anchored behind us. I felt certain I had not caught the crab pot lines with the prop, but where were those darn crab pots? JoDon began to put out fenders on one side of El Regalo and we discussed the situation with the other boat as we got closer. I got out the snorkeling gear and was stripping off my clothes to dive down (remember it was cold) just when both crab pots suddenly appeared. Thanks be to God! We quickly motored out of the harbor to the relief of ourselves and our neighbor.
The journey south to Ft. Lauderdale, FL was expected to be two days. During the two days we either had great winds and traveled at 7 knots or no winds and motored. It was one or the other; no in-betweens. We also learned that if we stayed within ½ mile of the shoreline we could catch a counter current from the Gulf stream and pick up 1.5 knots. On the second evening I was just about to start dinner when we caught a small Mahi-Mahi. The dinner menu suddenly changed.
Sunday morning we arrived @Ft. Lauderdale, re-fueled, topped off our water tanks and moved to Lake Sylvia that is within Ft. Lauderdale’s extensive waterways. Note to any other boaters: if you draw more than 6.5 ft don’t enter on low tide or you’ll have to wait for mid tide to get off the bottom. Yes, this is experience talking. It was Super Bowl Sunday but we both went to bed by 8pm. We were simply, “too tired to party” and read about the game the next morning on the Internet.
The following day we had a fantastic sail down the South Florida coastline to Biscayne Bay, south of Miami. To our surprise, we caught a nice grouper right off of Miami Beach which provided us dinner for two nights (steamed Chinese style the first night and Cuban style fish head soup the second). Don’t snicker about fish head soup until you have tried it.
The purpose of going further south was to get a better angle for the crossing to The Bahamas. When crossing, the Gulf Stream is very powerful and the current will push all boats north. Beginning further south is one way to compensate. We only waited two days in Biscayne Bay for favorable crossing weather.
We had sailed in Biscayne Bay several years ago with our friends Steve and Renie. Wow, does that seem like a lifetime ago with everything that has transpired in our lives the past three years! But, we realize that many of our friends have had “life changes” the past several years so we are amongst good company.
We were blessed by a good crossing opportunity on February 6th. When we left Biscayne Channel the waves were very large at the channel mouth to the Atlantic Ocean. El Regalo was like a giant surfboard going up and down the waves but it was never unsafe. For the next 24 hours we had great winds and sailing. Once we turned off the motor at Biscayne Channel we never turned it on again (with one small exception, see below) until entering the harbor of Chub Cay (pronounced ‘key’), The Bahamas. Somehow we also never adjusted our sail direction the entire trip although we sailed in several different directions. Not sure how we managed that! The photo below is of our chart plotter with the blue line showing what happens when the gulf stream carries the boat north while it's pointed southeast!
Other than flying across the channel at 6-8 knots, the most excitement we had was avoiding crashing into a shrimp boat at 3 am in the morning. Brian was studying an approaching boat on the radar as it got closer and closer. We used the VHF radio to try to hail the other boat to understand his intentions of passing us but there was no response. When the boat got close we could see that it was a shrimp boat with
his outriggers extending well outside of his boat. We quickly started the engine and throttled hard to avoid a collision. When passing the shrimp boat there was no one at the helm so the captain was probably asleep down below. Oh well, the captain missed a good adrenaline rush!
While at Chub Cay we decided to treat ourselves and go to a marina that was still under construction; Hurricane Andrew had leveled the previous marina. It was a beautiful welcome to the Bahamas. We needed to wash clothes (last was Brunswick). Chub Cay has no natural water source and all their water is made by reverse osmosis (R/O) of seawater. The marina charged $.40/gallon for water so we did not even turn on their metered faucets. The water at the marina was crystal blue so we used the marina’s shore power to run El Regalo’s water maker and fill the tank.
The following day our next destination was just around the corner, Bird Cay. It was the first time that we had been swimming in an almost one year; since the Florida Keys (the brown waters of the Chesapeake had too many jellyfish). Brian was successful with his new toy, a rubber sling ‘spear gun’ and came back to the boat with a large hog fish and a small lobster in his first underwater ‘fishing trip’. The hog fish is delicate white meat that provided two delicious dinners. We grilled the whole fish and lobster on the BBQ grill and made a Thai dish with the leftovers. Life is good!
In a boat, gathering weather information becomes an important, critical event. There are several sources available even while in the ocean. El Regalo has an SSB radio, which is a marine Ham radio system. With the SSB we can listen to weather nets (interactive forecasts with listeners calling in for specific details), receive weather faxes that show three day predictions of winds & waves and we can send/receive emails to keep family updated with our location. Although we can transmit and receive emails, we do not have Internet.
We departed Chub Cay in the morning, 2/10, with very dark skies to the north showing an approaching front. Right after we got the sails up the front hit hard, but we quickly let out a lot of sail and flew with the front down the north portion of the Tongue of the Ocean (actual name) to Southwest Bay, New Providence Island
(opposite side of the island to Nassau). The anchorage there was adequate. With a dive mask you could see the anchor. The bottom was so hard that our 60 lb. Bruce anchor could not dig into the ocean floor. But, after several attempts, we got very lucky. While trying to get the anchor to hold, it dragged itself into a small hole. The small hole was sufficient to hold El Regalo but it was not great anchorage. But we were not too worried since if the anchor slipped, worst case scenario we would drift out to sea.
This was the first day of a changing weather pattern for The Bahamas. The passing front was one of several that brought extreme strong winds, in many directions, for the next week. The wind was so bad that JoDon thought she was back in the panhandle of Oklahoma. When people from South Texas and the Panhandle complain about the wind, you know it was strong. Not afraid of high winds, rather than sit on a poor anchorage, we took advantage of the strong north wind by moving south to Alan Cay. We had the main sail double reefed (pulled in to make it small) and we only used the staysail (the smaller of our two headsails). We flew south in building seas, it was a wild ride.
We arrived at Alan Cay later than we wished and it had gotten very cloudy and overcast. This was not good since our paper charts and our electronic charts conflicted with the water depths and coral head & sandbar locations. We had to enter the small natural harbor visually but with the overcast, dark skies you could not see the color changes of the shallow waters, sand bars and coral heads. For the sake of the website etiquette, I will not elaborate on how I felt steering El Regalo into the tight entrance, but it was a very stressful situation. Compounding the stress, taking shelter in the harbor was not a unique idea and there were many other boats
already there making dropping our anchor, with 110’ feet of heavy chain for the storm, and adventure. Somehow we survived it all although the first night at this anchorage either JoDon or I slept in the cockpit doing anchor watch to ensure that we did not bump into other boats with the 25-35 knot winds. We did this as a precaution, we had already dove down on the anchor and saw the big anchor was so
buried in the sand that all you could see was chain disappearing into sand. We never moved an inch in the next three days. The photo shows the entrance and El Regalo in the distance after the winds had laid down.
On the positive side of high winds, our wind generator kept our boat batteries fully charged so we did not have to turn on the generator for several days. The new battery systems also have been a big enhancement as they hold and regain power much better than the old batteries.
Alan Cay is a place where tour operators from Nassau bring tourists to see the iguanas that live on the island. Because of foul weather the tour boats did not operate. When we approached Alan Cay with our dinghy, the
sound of our engine was like the ringing of the bell for Pavlov’s dogs. All the iguanas ran out to the shoreline to meet us and they were quite aggressive.
For several days since the ‘big blow’ we have been slowly working our way south stopping at various islands, including Shroud Cay and Waderick Wells Cay. While at Shroud Cay we took the dinghy up a mangrove forest to a very nice beach on the other part of the island. It was beautiful from the hill overlooking the bay.
In Waderick Cay we went to a beach happy hour around a bonfire and met several very nice cruisers. The second day there we invited three young brothers from Sweden to go snorkeling with us and they came aboard later that night. One brother, with a mentor, had sailed his tiny boat from Sweden to Florida and was attempting to be the youngest Swedish sailor to solo navigate the Atlantic when going home next month. Check out his website at www.majasventure.com .
El Regalo was tied to a park mooring ball in a narrow (but deep) inlet that flows through the park. The snorkeling was very good and the water a little cold. This was the last snorkeling trip without our wetsuits.
From Waderick we motored south to Cambridge, the south point of Exuma Park. While going south I was putting out one of my hand trolling lines. With only about 20’ of line in the water and the rest still being let out, a
a flash of silver aft of the boat caught my eye. At the immediate same time, the hand reel was jerked from my hand; it crashed into the bimni and was shattered. A piece of my hand reel flew overboard. With only 20’ of line, a fish had attacked my lure and broke the 125 lb test line, but not before creating havoc. Oh well, JoDon said it was justice since there was a ‘slight possibility’ that we were still within the park boundaries. But we caught a bar jack 30 minutes later so dinner was decided.
While at Cambridge we snorkeled into a cave with stalagmites. Too bad the beauty could not be captured by a camera. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset then the next morning during high tide we went to the ‘Aquarium’ an area nicknamed because of the dense fish population and gorgeous coral. This compact area had so many fish! We had tied our dinghy to a mooring ball and drifted with the tide. We were not paying attention to the tide strength and when we decided to go back to the dinghy, it was impossible to swim upstream! Swimming at full strength we were making no progress
and were being swept out to sea. We quickly decided to continue with the tide to the backside of this small island and try to get back to the dinghy by going around the island. On the backside there was no tide and no danger. We could not walk across the island
since it was 100% jagged coral and we had no shoes. The good news was the dinghy was now much closer to us but it was still impossible to swim against the tide along the short area to the dingy. I told JoDon to wait and I pulled myself along the steep shoreline, rock to rock, until I could reach the dinghy. Wow! What a rush and we learned the pitfall of snorkeling on high tide. This will be the last time we snorkel without pulling the dingy along.
The next day we meandered south to Pipe Cay. At Pipe Cay we went snorkeling at many small islands including Rat Cay and I speared a large lobster at The Mice. We moved on the same day to Big Majors Spot where we enjoyed a scrumptious BBQ lobster dinner. Hopefully we will find Internet service around the point at Staniel Cay and we can update our website.
From The Bahamas, later mon!