The Bahamas Part I

The Bahamas, Baby!

When we shared our cruising plans with friends and family, everyone liked the idea of our trip up north. But it was talk of spending the winter in the Bahamas that elicited the envious oohs and aahs. Must be something about those white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, palm trees, and – oh yes – the lack of S-N-O-W that makes everyone long to be in the islands...

Indeed, when we moved aboard Liberty in Washington, DC on January 22, 2003 (the coldest day of the year), it was thoughts of that tropical weather that kept us going. If you happened to see the snow scenes on our web site at that time, you would have seen a tropical beach scene we snuck in there as a joke. Well, folks, the photo on the right is no joke! Here’s Suzanne living her dream on New Year’s Day on Grand Bahama Island. It’s a far cry from shoveling our way through the snow just to get off the boat last year!

Bye-Bye, Florida

After an uneventful but enjoyable trip down the Florida coast, we spent a fun 12 days in beautiful, flashy Ft. Lauderdale. There we stocked up on food, supplies, and spare parts for the upcoming months in the islands while enjoying the holidays with cruising friends Jack and Linda Woods on Bora Bound. The “white” part of our White Christmas wasn’t snow this year, but the beautiful sand of Ft. Lauderdale Beach!

The Crossing

 After Christmas we lashed the dinghy on deck, prepared for sea, and awaited a weather window to cross the Straits of Florida to the Bahamas. The passage takes sailboats about ten hours, and can be quite treacherous if conditions aren’t right. We’d been warned to avoid crossing when the wind blows anywhere from Northwest to Northeast. (Northern winds oppose the Gulf Stream current, causing steep, choppy seas). As anxious as we were to get going, Prudence and Patience kept us company on board until the winds were 5-10 knots out of the east.

Ty raises the dinghy on deck -->

We weighed anchor at 0430 and at 0500 motored out of Port Everglades. The darkness made it easy to see the lights of the numerous cargo and cruise ships heading in and out of the busy harbor. Having spent the last two months in inland waters, it was thrilling to be on the ocean again. The wind was on the nose, so we had to motor, but unlike our experiences off the coast of Canada, for once the seas were flat. How refreshing!

Patience paid off -- the Gulf Stream was docile as could be. A few rain squalls were our only obstacles, and we successfully steered around them to stay dry. One of the black clouds sprouted a scary water spout that got our attention, but it stayed a comfortable four miles away.We pulled into West End on Grand Bahama Island at 1500, floating in water so clear we could see the bottom. Clearing customs was a breeze, but quite expensive. The cruising permit went from $100 to $300 this year. This seems to have affected the number of boats visiting. Those who’ve cruised here for years say the lack of other cruisers is noticeable. That’s ok by us!

Welcome to the Bahamas!

What fun to arrive in the Bahamas on New Year’s Eve. We bought two lobster tails off a local fishing boat for a special first-night’s dinner. Of course, after being up so early, we crashed at 8 o’clock! The loud music and blaring boat horns woke us up at midnight, but otherwise, we celebrated with our eyes closed.

 New Year’s Day we borrowed 2 of the marina’s bikes to explore the town. We couldn’t figure out why the cars were hogging the whole road, practically running us over. Suddenly, we remembered: they drive on the “wrong” side of the road here! We quickly shifted to the other side and laughed at our first taste of culture shock!

We headed out the next morning for our first sail on the shallow bank. What a treat! It was a little disconcerting to be cruising in depths of less than 12 feet, but at the same time, it was thrilling to see everything below us. The water is turquoise in some places, and a beautiful emerald green in others. A couple of dolphins swam by, and it was just like watching them through an aquarium window. We can see starfish and sponges while sailing along, and checking the anchor is a snap!

The best part of all is that we’re finally warm! Having spent the summer in Maine, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, we rarely saw temperatures above 70. Even all the way to Florida we were chilly. Now, days often get to the upper 70’s (sometimes even to 80), and the nights are in the 60’s – perfect sleeping weather. The sun is intense, and we have tan lines for the first time all year!

 We visited a few of the deserted islands in the northern Abacos our first week out. Our favorites were Double Breasted Cay (pronounced “key”) and Allans-Pensacola Cay with their pristine, white beaches. Attracted by the color of the water, we got a little greedy at Double Breasted and wanted to go in closer.With our 6-foot keel in mind, we waited for a rising tide. We inched in ever so slowly, with the depth sounder showing the kind of shallow waters we’re not used to. It was all sand around us, and with the height of tide predicted, we should have been able to make it, but the charts aren’t exactly accurate around here.

 We went aground in soft sand. We can talk about this with little embarrassment, because the local saying is just like on the Chesapeake: anyone who says they haven’t gone aground in the Bahamas hasn’t sailed in the Bahamas! Unlike other times we’ve bumped the bottom, this time we couldn’t just put the engine in reverse and power off. Liberty was stuck, but good. We tried every trick in the book: We used the motor. We put both sails up. We put both anchors out and kedged off (twice each). Calling for a tow is not in Ty’s book, but it wouldn’t have helped anyway. Out here there’s no Tow BoatUS! After 90 minutes of stress and strain, the combination of our efforts and the last of the rising tide got us free. Phew!

Feeling rather isolated after a few days in the deserted islands, we headed in to White Sound at Green Turtle Cay. What a great place! Anchored between two four-star resorts and surrounded by other cruisers, we got our first real taste of island life. Conch chowder, fried conch, conch fritters… rum drinks… bumping into friendly folks on other boats… it doesn’t get much better than this!

One of the gorgeous beaches in White Sound -->

When we were cruising in Canada, we felt cut off from other people. News from the States was hard to come by. Down here, it’s a whole different experience. There’s no shortage of other cruisers, and we’ve been making lots of friends. It’s really fun to pull into a new anchorage and see familiar boats.

Without a satellite dish, we get no TV reception (no great loss, except for national news). US newspapers and magazines are non-existent on the smaller islands. Not to worry! The daily Cruisers’ Net at 0815 on channel 68 out of Marsh Harbor is fun (when we’re within VHF range), and a great way to catch up on news, weather, surf conditions, and other information that we can’t get from the normal sources . The “open mike” session allows cruisers to exchange information and ask questions, and announcements from local businesses let us know about activities in the area. It’s interesting to note that cruisers here monitor channel 68 throughout the day, rather than 16.

Bank hours in New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay (This is Island Time, Mon!)

It’s easy to take things for granted when you’re in the States -- like reliable phone service. Our cell phone is another thing that doesn’t work here (no surprise, being this far away). So far, we’ve found that only one in four public phones works! (Note that the inoperational phones have all been within one block of the telephone office!) We rely on the phones for email (through our Pocketmail). Local phones have been so unreliable that we’re looking into HF email (through our SSB (single sideband radio). More on that in future updates if it works!

We’ve gone native now, having baptized our pole spear. Dressed out in full wet suits (the water temperature is around 70 degrees), we went with a friend in his dinghy out to a reef offshore and snorkeled for a few hours. Ty successfully speared two fish, but Suzanne needs to work on her aim! Our friend, Orren, who has years of experience, brought up several lobsters from the bottom. Suzanne was so buoyant she kept popping right back to the surface every time she tried to go deep. (Time to buy a weight belt!). Orren told us that every time he goes fishing he sees sharks. On our way back to the boat, Suzanne said, “Glad you didn’t see any today!” to which he replied, “There were two of them out there. You just didn’t see them.” (You can skip this part, Mom!)

The fish on the banks aren’t as plentiful as we’d hoped, but we keep trying. Prices are so high here, it’s good to be self-sufficient! For example, a half-gallon of orange juice is $6.40. A loaf of bread is $4.50! One gallon of milk is $7.40!!! We’re learning not to look at prices. If you need it, you just buy it. Good thing we filled the freezer before leaving Florida (But we have to buy the perishables!)

Even water isn’t free here. Prices vary from 10 cents a gallon to 50. Our water tanks hold 300 gallons, so you do the math! We debated whether or not to get a water maker and decided

“Taxis” lined up at the Great Guana Cay landing

against it. We figured we can buy an awful lot of water for the $4000 a watermaker costs (not to mention the loss of storage space the unit would take plus the aggravation and maintenance. So far, we think we made the right decision.

At the same time, unlike in New England, where we often had no choice but to pay for a mooring ball (because all the anchorages were filled with them), and the marinas were over $2 a foot, here, there’s no shortage of fabulous (free) anchorages. Other than a few groceries and fuel, our only expenses are the occasional lunch or drink ashore.

<-- Here’s Ty hurrying to the famous “Nipper’s” beach bar on Great Guana Cay  (the scary thing is, they trusted this man with nuclear weapons!)

Navigation skills are essential down here. Given the shallow water and the coral reefs, you don’t just head out and sail any-which-way. Navigation aids are practically non-existent, except at the entrance to certain harbors.The “Explorer Charts” are our favorites for planning each trip.  The safest routes are clearly shown, with GPS waypoints shown along the way.

                   --->                     A typical Bahamian navigation aid (with non-working light atop)

We plan to spend another month or so exploring the Abacos (the northernmost islands), then slowly work our way south to the Exumas.

It’ll probably be a couple of months before we update the site again, but there won’t be much to add anyway... just more photos of white beaches, crystal clear waters, fantastic sailing, and fun in the sun...

Sniff.

It’s a tough life, but somebody’s gotta do it!