Monday, April 28, 2014

Emerald Bay, Bell Island,Black Point, Big Major Spot - Moving on and movie stars

We had a relaxing motor sail in light winds from Hawkesbill to Emerald Bay which is actually on the east side of Warderick Well were we had only recently spent time, we did not go ashore but had a lovely peaceful night at anchor and then headed off in the morning. I love the name of one of the large rocks in this area – London Gin Rock.

The next trip involved some tricky navigation; we were getting more experienced at dodging the shallow patches. Initially we had to sail east of the islands so we would avoid the shallow sand bars which often protrude from the islands for a mile of more.  We sailed past Halls Pond Cay and then Little Halls Pond Cay, which is the island Johnny Depp owns although we do on thing he was a t home as we believe when he is there he flies a large pirate flag. You cant help but envy anyone that owns a Bahamian island!

Little Halls Pond
We had hoped to anchor off Little Halls Pond but unfortunately the weather changed these plans.  Firstly we had to navigate round the south of Bell Island which involved passing through a narrow passage between a sand match less than 1M deep and a rocky headland, we felt very pleased with ourselves as we did this successfully with Amanda on the bow shouting directions and Mark at the wheel.  The anchorage at Bell Island has great shelter from the south west and with another cold front with strong winds expected was ideal for shelter.  It is also only a short dingy ride to some amazing snorkelling so before the poor weather arrived we made the most of this.  There is a sunken drug smugglers plane close Little Halls Pond and along with the plane there are some beautiful corals, we saw a huge ray buried in the sand, plus the ever over friendly Sergeant Major fish.

Pretty coral

Sunken drug smugglers plane

The ever lovely parrot fish
What is a little frustrating here is that the current runs really strong so you must time you snorkelling at slack tide.  There is also another smaller coral patch in shallower water just a short dingy ride away which we also enjoyed.

After a peaceful night with the anchorage to ourselves during the next day the weather was starting to deteriorate and with it the anchorage – how dare they spoil our solitude.   Mark tried something new with a drift snorkel where Amanda sat in the dingy and Mark held onto the dingy with one hand as he was whizzed along over the coral which was fun.  We were lucky enough to see a turtle in the anchorage and also we were visited by one particularly inquisitive ray whilst swimming round the boat, shame we did not have the camera.

Pretty sunset at Bell Island
That night the wind increased South west through to West but we had great shelter so thankfully it did not bother us to much, early the following morning the squalls started with the winds increasing and torrential rain for hours and hours! By lunch this had subsided but no-one was really moving, we then see a small boat sailing towards the anchorage, Mark thinks this looks like Cilest which is sailed by our friend Robie and yes as he casually crops anchor under sail we know it is him! Mark is soon over to invite Robie for dinner, we had been hoping to see Robie and Patsy further south but found out that he had some family issues and was heading back to Florida with the boat and then back to Maui.  Such a shame but we did have a lovely dinner and it was lovely to see him, Robie was also amazingly generous and gave us a whole load of food which he had stocked for his months in the Bahamas, we drooled as we looked at the delights which included dried blueberries, dried figs, dried Mango, walnuts,, trial mix, this list goes on! How amazing for us when we had been through a lot of our stocks from the US in Cuba and it was just too expensive and difficult to buy such lovely food in Nassau.  We were glad we had the opportunity to see Robie before he left but sad it was under sad circumstances and we were not going to get to share some rum with him and Patsy this year.

Having  a rum with Robie
Next day we waved goodbye to Robie who was off to make as much progress north as the weather would allow.  The wind had now swung to northerly still blowing 20 knots and our sheltered anchorage was become a bit bumpy as we could see the waves rolling in the entrance although we were still protected by a small island we decided that we should also set sail.

Saying goodbye to Robie and Cilest
So we upped anchor and careful navigated through the corals in the anchorage and then battled hard against the tide to get into the deeper channel to return on the route which we had entered as our only other option was to head out into the sound which was looking a little bumpy.  So here we had to navigate back through the narrow passage, this time it was even scarier as the tide almost whisked us pst the gap to Mark had to motor hard towards the rocks with Amanda panicking on the foredeck but we were through.  We even thought we would have a short break in the shelter of the island for lunch.

After lunch we upped anchor and sailed downwind in 20+ knots to Big Major Spot, after anchoring in such quiet spots over the last week or so it was funny to suddenly see around 60 boats anchored in one place! We did manage to tuck in enough to get shelter from the wind for the night.  Next morning the appeal of staying in such a busy anchorage was limited so we headed to Black Point.  The wind had now swung easterly and although the trip to Black Point was only a 6 mile sail it was upwind and it was more of a struggle than we thought in 20+ knots and some short chop on the bank, in hindsight we should have had the mainsail along with the foresail but as we left we were being lazy and only pulled out the foresail.

Black Point on Great Guana Cay is such a lovely settlement, the people are kind and welcoming (one day a whole load of toddlers ran up and hugged us for no apparent reason) and it has great amenities.  The laundrette is spotlessly clean with lots of machine, has free wifi, has the best carrot cake ever at $1 and for $4 we had an 8 minute shower – what do you do with so much water!! We even manage to be there when the mailboat arrived so we could get a few more provisions.  It was great to get off the boat to stretch our legs, you could have a decent walk where we even saw some wildlife, an odd bird with long legs but a bill like a duck plus a snake and we even managed a run! Amanda was also very pleased to have decent wifi to Skype her mum on Mothers Day, thanks Black Point.

The airport building at Black Point
Little snake whilst we were out on a walk

Castle at Little Cay on Great Guana (just round headland from Black Point) 
 With the some favourable weather for sailing south, we sailed the 13 miles to Cave Cay, with a force 4-5 north easterly we had a lovely sail.  We were a little disappointed as there were other islands we had wanted to visit on this stretch south but with the weather being so unsettled and this opportunity to make some miles we had to take it. 

During this sail we did see a good example of why tide planning is important in the Bahamas not only to ensure you have enough depth for deep boats like Magnum but when transiting the cuts from the Bank to the Sound.  As we passed by Galliot Cut we could see the waves breaking

Galliot Cut
We cautiously navigated the shallow waters around Cave Cay around the sandbanks and coral patches we tucked in to anchor close to shore.  The island is private so we had no intention of going ashore, it seemed idyllic which is was until it got dark and the tide turned and we had another rolly night J

Next day we were up and heading towards Musha Cay which is owned by David Copperfield.

Musha Cay

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Norman Cay. Shroud Cay and Hawkesbill - Can't believe how beautiful

We left Warderick Wells on the edge of the front and as we headed onto the shallow waters on the Bank it was still pretty bumpy and we had 22-25 knots of south westerly wind.  Initially we motored into the wind but we were able to turn to run with the windy the sea was a little bumpy, this only really caused a concern because where were we going to get any shelter?  We headed for our first option about 12 miles away where it soon became apparent we were not going to get any shelter, a 100+ft powerboat was happily anchor there but we were rolling all over the place. So we pressed on about another 5 miles to Norman Cay, the chart showed shallow water in the entrance which was difficult to see in the white horse but we managed to sneak through, the charts explain to follow the dark blue channel, what dark blue channel? The water seemed to get light and lighter all around us and with around 20 boats already in this anchorage we just had round up into the wind and drop the anchor, good news was it was sheltered, bad news was there wasn't much room so we squeezed in close to this beautiful little island.

As the afternoon went on the wind built but we sat happily at anchor, as other boats came into the anchorage there was plenty of room for them to manoeuvre.  We went off to bed with the wind howling but happy that we had been there all day and there were no issue, as we woke up around midnight Mark looked out to check all way ok, yep all ok.  Less than 5 minutes later there was a huge bang and we both jumped out of bed and into the cockpit, the boat next to us was on just off our stern, it looked like our lifebuoy which is on our guard rail had collided with their pulpit, so it was a very close miss.  This had happened not because of the wind but because of the odd flowing tide which was causing all the boats to move in different directions.  We upped anchor in the dark and moved, very nerve racking in water which we knew was shallow all around us but we had to re-anchor.  Mark then sat on deck for the next 2 hours watching all the boats dance around but thankfully nowhere near us but it was a very sleepless night.  Next day Mark dingyed over to our neighbours who were as mystified as us that we had collided as we seemed to have plenty of swinging room, thankfully all was good on their boat as with Magnum but not nice night at anchor.

We were desperate to move as we did not want a repeat experience but decided to head out for a snorkel before making a decision.  There is a sunken passenger plane in the Bay which lead to some great snorkelling, there we some huge stingrays gliding around and hidden in the sand and schools of grunt hiding in the plane plus a huge numbers of sergeant major fish swarming in our faces, I assure they get fed so are all over any visitors, they even bit Amanda’s leg!

Wow a sunken plane

Big school of grunts playing hide and seek in the plane

Amanda and the overly friendly Sargent Major fish

Mark and his follow me fish

Mark showing off his swimming skills
As soon as we were back on board we decided we would up anchor, by now then wind had dropped and we had a leisurely sail of 6 miles to Shroud Cay.  This is back in the Exuma Land and Sea Park, stunning location, with the tropic birds noisily circling around the boat, it is close to mating season so there were lots of displaying taking place, we also had a big flock on egrets fly by.

That evening when Mark jumped off the back of the boat to have a wash, he looked at the hull only to find the Ramora fish aka sharkersuckers which we had stuck to the hull in Warderick Wells were still with us! They did not seem to concerned that Mark was in the water and we were quite excited by having some pets.  That night we had a lovely time feeding them our left over vegetable peelings, they particularly like the inside of the butternut squash, at this point there seemed to have 2 friends  – Tilly and Tom as we named them, Tom was probably 2.5ft and Tilly closer to 2ft.  They are very odd looking creatures with a large sucker on the top of their head which is how they stick themselves to sharks and whales, oh and our hull, they have big wide mouths which looked scary at first but now look like big wide smiles.  It was nice to think they were enjoying their new home as much as we were enjoying their visit.

Next day after breakfast with Tilly, Tom and now Tiny had also appeared and we set out in the dingy to explore through the mangroves on Shroud Cay and then out to the beach on the sound side of the island.  The mangroves seem eerily quiet and we did not see any wildlife, the beautiful beach you reach on through the island is amazing, it is sheltered by a few small islands and a reef, with crystal clear waters.  What was really funny as we reached the beach was there were 7 director chair set up on the beach, along with a cool box, suntan lotions, towels, kayaks, basically everything you could want on your own private beach, funny that this had obviously been set up for guests from one of the 2 huge superyachts anchored in the bay but there were no guest to be seen and we didn't even help ourselves to a cold beer.  We were certainly glad that the guests were not on the beach and we had the place to ourselves, so we jumped in for a swim.

Pottering through the mangroves on daisy dingy

Mark loving another beautiful beach

Amanda  all alone on the beautiful beach

How the other half live with everything they could want waiting for them on the beach
That afternoon we were off again and the short 4 miles hop to Hawkesbill although we had briefly stopped here before we couldn't resist another stay as it was such a wonderful location.  We even allowed ourselves an entire day of relaxing on the beach, swimming and generally taking it very easy.  Not much snorkelling here but we did see a few fish and pretty much had the place to ourselves apart from a huge powerboat whose occupants occasional came out and whizzed around on jet skis.

Magnum at anchor before leaving Shroud Cay

Big boat and little boat at Hawkesbill

This lovely little crap was keeping his eye on us

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Dodging the coral heads all the way to crystal clear waters of the Exumas

On leaving Nassau the weather had settled so we headed only a few miles out to Atol Island and were already into the shallow waters which makes the Bahamas a challenge when you have a deep boat like Magnum.   Once the day tripper boats had all headed back to Nassau to the night we had a lovely calm and peaceful night.

The next day we were to sail to the Exumas through waters where eyeball navigation is critical, this basically means one of you standing on deck shouting at the other which way to steer and the other not hearing and shouting back at you, a sure way for a relaxing sail!  There were areas on this route where this navigation went on for miles so it was slow going but very necessary and we did have navigate around various coral heads but they were easier to spot than expected, as our friend Jay explained “they are the size of a sunken boat with a ring of light sand around them” and this is what we found.

It was fantastic to arrive into Highbourne Cay and call up Jay on Kenlanu, we had last seen him in Lake Worth over 2 months ago, what was even more fantastic was Jay had prepared dinner for us, so we just had to drop anchor, have a wash and grab the rum.  We spent a lovely evening with Jay with too much to talk about and lots of wine and rum to consume.

The next day we looked at the weather forecast and we were already looking at the next cold front forming and arriving in the next few days, this very sadly meant we had to head south and leave Jay, we had thought we would have at least been able to repay the dinner invitation.  With us all feeling a little jaded we headed off for a morning snorkel just north of Highbourne Cay, there were some great corals, lots of reef fish and we were stalked by a scary Barracuda.  We then waved goodbye to Jay as he thought on his long trip back up through the Bahamas and up the East coast of the States to Maine.

So next stop for us was Hawkesbill Cay, this is in the Exuma Land and Sea Park which is owned by the Bahamas National Trust.  This is one of the most beautiful locations which we have been lucky enough to visit, the water is crystal clear, the sand is pristine, there are little birds hopping around the shore and old conch shells washed up on the beach.  After an amazingly silent night at anchor we had the beach to ourselves during our morning walk and swim.

Amanda on beach at Hawkesbill

Mark at Hawkesbill

Conch shell no longer occupied on beach

Magnum at anchor at Hawkesbill
We only had the morning to relax at Hawkesbill and with light winds we upped anchor and motor sailed south to Warderick Wells.  This 20 miles passage was quite relaxing apart from the last 5 miles where we had to navigate through the shallows, all would have been fine apart from our paper and electronic charts differed and although we were told that the paper charts were the more accurate which meant we would be fine and there was plenty of water it was still nerve racking manoeuvring through water which on the electronic chart was too shallow.

We safe picked up out buoy in Warderick Wells and settled in for what we knew was going to be at least a few days with a cold front bringing strong winds.  Warderick Wells is the headquarters of the Land and Sea Park so there is a small office and there are various walking trials around the island.  We had a lovely time walking trial to the Sounds side of the island and watching the waves crashing on the beach.  Many of the paths are over porous rock, through palm woods or along the beautiful beaches.  We often saw no-one else walking and were alone on the beautiful beaches to have a quick dip to cool off. 

Mark enjoying our own private beach
Magnum moored in Warderick Wells
Views over Warderick Wells

Wonderful views from Warderick Wells
Another private beach for us to enjoy
We enjoyed swimming off the beaches in the shallows but also there is some great snorkelling, we even swam with a nurse shark and a lemon shark! Plus a huge lobster that must have been 2ft long. 

Curly Tail lizards enjoying a bit of biscuit!

Bahamian Mocking Bird
 We enjoyed swimming off the beaches in the shallows but also there is some great snorkelling, we even swam with a nurse shark and a lemon shark! Plus a huge lobster that must have been 2ft long. 
Nassau Grouper
Gray Angel Fish
Nurse Shark quietly laying on the bottom
Monster lobster with his little fishy friend
We stayed on our buoy for 6 nights waiting for the weather to pass but were lucky that we could get off the boat most days but when we were stuck on the boat we made the most of the time making fresh bread and cakes.