Monday, March 31, 2014

Hopetown, Elbow Cay, Bahamas

After cruising 250 miles in the last couple of weeks, we have arrived at the northern end of the Bahamas chain, locally known as the Abacos Islands.  Dodging fronts and sailing in between, we have covered a lot of ground since leaving Puerto Rico and feel like we are on the home stretch.  Once we reach the mainland U.S. (sometime next week if weather allows), our pace will slow down as we cruise up the coast, but with the fronts reaching the Bahamas, the "cold" weather is already shocking our sun soaked skins.  Case in point: our primary method of showering on this whole trip has been the ever reliable, surprisingly effective and enjoyable solar shower-a dark colored plastic bag with a hose that the sun heats up for a free hot water shower, usually accompanied by a quick jump in the ocean first.  But the last week?  no way, its been chilly, or we've been sailing.

So our arrival in the picturesque village of Hopetown, first order of business was a shower, unlimited hot water, heavenly!  Next was groceries.  We walked out with fresh veggies for a mondo salad (haven't been running the cooler for almost two weeks because produce has been hard to come by), a quart of cold, fresh milk (UHT milk only goes so far), and a homemade key lime pie (because it's pie!).  Funny what you crave when you pull into civilization.

The Exumas (central Bahamas chain) was enjoyable, lots of little cays and beaches and snorkeling to explore.  Our favorite respite was a popular anchorage called Big Majors Spot, because the beachfront was home to a family of pigs.  Not just any pigs, swimming pigs!  The cruising guide offers you to take in your scraps and feed the friendly porcine, so friendly that we watched one of the behemoths try to jump in someone's john boat, we steered clear, that behavior would've scuttled us for sure.  They snorted when you fed them, squealed when you didn't and were a riot to behold.  The owners are genius, they get their pigs fed for free as a tourist activity.

The other cool spot within dinghy distance was the famed Thunderball Grotto, from the Sean Connery James Bond film of the same name.  What a cool spot.  From the outside, it looks like any other rocky cay, but duck under and through an opening and the fish swarm (including a monster barracuda and a sleepy nurse shark) and you enter shangri-la, a grotto where the sunlight shafts through holes in the ceiling of this tennis court sized cavern, and the view out the window to the coral garden beyond is utterly beautiful.  It was a jaw dropping place that totally lived up to its hype.

We waited out a front in Compass Cay, a small marina with pet nurse sharks and yummy burgers, but no showers.  The water here is unbelievably clear, and with a sand back drop on the shallows, the prettiest aquamarine.  We mentioned how we thought most of the Caribbean would be like this, small villages and pretty water, but really, most of the islands were volcanic, and steep, not a lot of shallow water.  All that shallow in the Bahamas makes for some tricky navigation, and we've had to use our skills to plot, plan and negotiate narrow passes and shallow shelves timed with some hefty current.  We tried going against the current in one pass and encountered a "rage" where the sea stacks up steep when the wind and current don't agree, so we pulled a u turn and opted to run up in the lee of the islands that day.  We also stopped in the small village at Black Point based on a recommendation from Snow Goose and were rewarded with some sweet coconut bread made by "Lorraine's Mom".  I actually had to go into her kitchen to pick it up and her whole house smelled like sweet bread.  It was delicious, only half the loaf even made it back to the boat.

All too soon, time was getting short, so we took advantage of some southerly wind to push northward, waved by Nassau as we sailed right on by and overnighted up to the Abacos.  We'll wait out this front, then spend a few days island hopping west and stage for our jump across the Gulf Stream when the weather looks good.  Then it will be time to put away the snorkel gear and pull out pants (what are those?) for our spring journey up the east coast.  I hear snow is still falling in the mid-atlantic, I sure hope it starts warming up fast!  It's going to take some adjustment being back in the States after being away for over a year.  The cruising will be different, less anchoring and more marinas, and we'll be spending more time ashore visiting the towns rather than snorkeling off the boat or walking the beach.  But, for the next week, we'll take advantage of the last of our tropical adventure and hopefully find one of those elusive sea beans we keep hearing wash up on shore here in the Bahamas.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Georgetown, Bahamas

We've been off the grid for a bit as we made lots of miles from the Turks and Caicos to the central Bahamas.  But after a couple weeks of making tracks we arrived in Georgetown today. 
A new challenge for us is dealing with variable weather…in the Caribbean the wind was almost always east. However, here, we have to deal with the cold fronts marching off the USA coastline, which makes the wind shift all over the place.  So we have to pay close attention to the forecast and make sure we get ourselves someplace safe for any violent wind that comes through.

That brought us to Rum Cay for a few days as we waited for a cold front to work it's way through.  There, we met the crews of Snow Goose and Plume, each heading south.  We traded stories and charts as we passed like ships in the night. Except it was during the day.

We also visited Conception Island, Mayaguana, and Long Island on our way to Georgetown, where we are today.  Today is a quick reprovision and water unload, and we'll set sail again tomorrow for the north.  Although we don't need a ton of groceries because we hauled in a huge Mahi Mahi yesterday…it will feed us for three days! 

Only a few more weeks and we hope to be in Florida, so we have to soak up the sun and surf while we can!  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

This week we made the long trek from Puerto Rico to the Turks and Caicos Islands, our staging point for a further departure to the Bahamas next week.

We left eastern Puerto Rico on Sunday morning, and had a nice 400 mile trip to Grand Turk, which took us 4 days and 3 nights.  This trip was particularly nice because we were "off the wind" so to speak…we didn't have to bash our way to our destination, but rather we freed the sheets and had a nice, low stress ride the whole way.  That's not to say it wasn't rolly, but it was still a nice break.

There are three major reefs along the path…Navidad, Silver, and Muchoir Banks.  They are all sunken islands, territorially belonging to the Dominican Republic but geographically related more to the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos.

The Atlantic Humpback Whale uses these banks to give birth each year, and on our last day we were lucky to see a baby humpback breaching alongside it's mother.  It was pretty small (but still huge), and it looked like it was learning how to breach, which was awesome to see. We didn't get any pictures - it was too cool to just watch!

We arrived in Grand Turk, checked in, and did two dives the next day in the crystal clear waters.  The islands aren't much to look at, mostly big sand bars, but the water is really clear.  We're on kind of a schedule now, though, so we moved on quickly.  Last night, we anchored 30 miles from land on Caicos Bank (you need daylight to navigate amongst the coral heads), which was a new experience for us.

Today we arrived in Provo, the populated center of the Caicos Islands.  We'll do a couple of dives tomorrow, then spend Tuesday getting water and groceries, then we're off to the Bahamas!

This was a huge eagle ray we saw next to the boat at anchor...