Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ready Steady Go

We were itching to get away from Georgetown, with so many miles ahead of us we just wanted to get started, our plan was that although we could not see the ideal weather window we would get the boat ready and it would then be easy once the weather appeared.  We thought we would have one last walk Stocking island  from Sand Dollar anchorage before anchoring closer to Georgetown.  Our lovely walk ended in a small disaster, Amanda sprained her ankle and was unable to walk, so progress was then limited with Amanda hobbling around the boat. But we managed to move Magnum closer to Town and Mark ferried back and fore in the dingy collecting warred, fuel and food.  We then moved back to our favoured spot in Monument anchorage.

The amazing beach on Stocking Island
We then sat and waited, things were even more frustrating with Amanda unable to get off the boat and walk but after 3 or 4 days we were able to venture to Stocking Island for short walks providing they were reasonable flat.  We kept a close and very frustrated eye on the weather and saw a possible opportunity just over a week later.

Mark heading through the undergrowth on Stocking Island

Magnum at anchor in a anchorage with less and less boats
During this time he weather was quite unsettled and we often had strong north easterly winds and although we had good shelter it made dingy rides to Georgetown difficult with us both being soaked on the journey but it was nice to venture over and see a little of local life.  We enjoyed watching the school kids playing football, the children in the UK do not know how lucky they are, here there was no proper football pitch, it was marked out with a few cones scattered in the public green area/park in the middle of the settlement. This included playing around cars and dodging any people that decided to walk across the field and all of this often with no trainers just socks! But  they were as competitive and enjoyed as much as any kids.

School kids playing football in Georgetown
The approaching weather showed 20-25 knots easterlies which although not ideal would allow us a few days heading north and then the wind looked like it would swing slightly south or east so we could then head easterly. We bought enough food to last us for 4 weeks at sea just in case we had to head further south than Bermuda and straight to Azores. We did engine checks, rigging checks, grab bag at the ready, boat packed so nothing would move a sea, dingy packed away, we were as ready as we could be.  Mark woke up in the very early hours and did one final weather check. It had changed! Yep winds were forecasted to be stronger particularly overnight and potentially with some north, we could not leave.

Another week passed in much the same way, we tried to enjoy our time although getting increasingly stressed.  We walked every path on Stocking Island, the wild life seemed to be changing with the move into May we saw amazing hummingbirds, butterflies the size of birds and lots of Bahamian Mocking birds doing their mating ritual dance.

Those 3 little birds are hummingbirds, will be ever manage a good close up photo of one, they are just too quick!
We did not enjoy the weather so much during that week and walks were often taken dodging the showers and the evenings often had squalls rip through the anchorage.

Marks shorts holding onto the rails as a squall rips through the anchorage

As the next either window arrived all the same preparation took place.  On the 15th May we upped anchor and headed out of Georgetown, the wind was gusting 20 knots as we motored from the harbour, the sea was a little rolly but it felt good to be on the move.  We knew we had to make progress so we sailed hard on the wind making of 6+ knots in around 15 knots or wind, making good progress.  As we approached Cape Santa Maria on Long Island the winds started to build along with the seas as they often do at a headland.  We kept ploughing on but we were beating into the swell and it was quite unpleasant.  The seas continued to grow and the motion got worse, the wind was not swinging south easterly as forecast so we could not bear away so we maintain our course hard on the wind.  As dark approached we started to question whether we wanted to continued with potentially another week at sea in these conditions, its was not much fun.   We the. made the very difficult decision that we did not which meant that we really needed to change our plans for heading to Bermuda and the Azores.  We turned and headed back to the Exumas, we were running with 25 knots of wind and the motion became much more bearable, you then question have you made the right decision, it may have been ok, should we have carried on?  We sailed overnight and by the morning arrived in Blackpoint, Great Iguana.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

3 Years onboard

On 27th April 2014 was our third year anniversary of our cruising life.  Funny that we would celebrate it in almost exactly the same spot as last year! Who would have thought we would have been back in Sand Dollar anchorage in George Town, Great Exuma, Bahamas.  When we left here last year we had no intention of returning but here we are.

Magnum is there is  the middle of the beautiful Sand Dollar anchorage
The day we left the UK (April 2011) in brilliant sunshine with Portchester Castle in the background, this is minutes from  our home berth
Magnum getting last minute fuel as we leave Portsmouth harbour for the start of our journey
During the last 12 months we have sailed over 3900 miles which is almost half that of last year, but still a significant mileage as the previous year included an Atlantic crossing.  Surprising to us is that of the last 12 months cruising 7 months of these were spent in America.  When we originally left the UK on this trip with no intention on visiting America but about 12 months in, we started to consider this option for the hurricane season as we met people who had done the same or knew people that had travelled that route.  So after applying for a US visa and having to travel back to the UK to get the Visa we decided this would be a good option to fit with our plans, little did we know that our plans would change again but that is the nature of cruising

So what have been the highlights of this year:

  • Meeting so many genuinely lovely and welcoming people in America, from our first weeks at Portsmouth where the liveaboard community gave us lifts to do our shopping, frequently invited us to fun and frolics on the dock and made sure we had everything we needed to make our stay as enjoyable as possible.  This welcome and helpfulness stuck with us as we travelled up and down the east coast with almost everyone we met, amazing how people can be so kind and generous.  We really hope we can remain friends with some of these lovely people.
Our lovely Portsmouth friends
  • 4th July spent in the US, how fantastic, a great fun time had by all.

  • Seeing a bear whilst sailing the Intracoastal Waterway and then seeing more bears in the mountains. A REAL LIFE WILD BEAR still can't get over that!

  • Resting and walking in the Blueridge Mountains, such stunning scenery and wildlife, a wonderful time away from the boat.
So pretty
  • Our first baseball game, yes it was only a local game in Norfolk, Virginia but great to experience such a family friendly event.
  • Sailing into New York. Wow this was amazing, something I never imagined we would do.  Our time in New York to our surprise was some of our best time spent in the States, we loved it much more than we thought.
Amanda sailing into NYC

That is Lady Liberty just on Marks shoulder
  • Newport Rhode Island had such great sailing history and our trip to Boston was great fun.
  • Spending Christmas time in Miami South Beach, yes we spent too much money, but it was such an interesting place.
Magnum at anchor in South Beach and downtown Miami with the sun setting
  • Our entire time is Cuba was so special due to having friends and family visit and spending time with them whilst enjoying this interesting place.   We were lucky enough to visit Havana numerous times and spend time in the countryside in Vinales as well as lots of other day trips

  • The Exumas in the Bahamas, the crystal clear waters are such amazing colours, yes it has sometimes been a challenge to navigate and the weather has not always been kind but we will never forgot this place.
We have done things slightly differently this year by spending longer time periods in the same locations with almost 2 month in Cuba and 6 weeks in Portsmouth, Virginia, a month around New York, 3 weeks in Miami and currently 5 weeks in George Town.  Although this has not always been by choice and the weather has played a part, it has enabled to get to know places.

So what did we do on our anniversary? Well the day before had seem rain and thunderstorms all day but the weather was kind and the sun came out.  We snorkelled with turtles and rays, explored the reefs in Elizabeth Harbour and walked on the amazing Stocking Island beach.  We topped this off with a glass of rum and reminisced about a great year.

Walking in the beautiful beach at Stocking Island

Mark enjoying his walk on Stocking Island

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Long Island - Shallow water alarm

We had such a wonderful sail to Long Island, we firstly had to motor sail through the harbour to the south exit where we stuck closely to the waypoints as thee as scattered coral head and off lying reefs all around. Once out of the main harbour we sailed along the length of Little Exuma passing the Tropic of Cancer beach which we had visited on the scooter. We then passed Hogs Cay, White Cay and a few other islands, these are tiny island which look very isolated but on some you could see a house, that would be a very remote holiday.

We sailed with sail main sail and the foresail poled out running with the wind which was lovely in the flat calm seas.  It was extremely hot and both were slightly feed up with sitting in the heat but our day was brighten up when four bottled nosed dolphins came to visit.  The watered were under 5 metres but they darted around us riding Magnums bow wave but we wee not really going fast enough for them so sadly they did not stay for long.

Lovely bottled nosed dolphin

Mark on the bow dolphin watching

As we started to approach  Thompson Bay winds started to build to over 20 knots so we were racing along, not ideal as the water started to shallow to under 3 metres and this was the first of many times that our shallow water alarm started to beep.. We reduced sail and crept round the headland before dropping sail and slowly edging into the bay where thankfully the sea was lovely and flat. Thompson Bay is large but shallow but we settled in 2.8 metres and dropped anchor.   

We stayed here for a couple of days and along with the extremely shallow water which meant we were a good 10 minutes from shore what was really noticeable was how eerily quiet it was, we would sit in the cockpit not wanting to speak as it would break the silence. We were able to land the dingy on the beach and walk into Salt Pond the local settlement, nice walk even though along the road, very pretty church along the way.

As with all these places the settlement was small, the were a couple of supermarket one actually well stocked but pricey although we did find a couple of bargains, not yet made our blueberry muffins but they looked too good to resist.  The locals we're really friendly and there is a small resort where you can use the washing machines, thankfully this chore did not need doing,  you could walk over to the opposite of the island, nice to see the sea crashing in but such a shame that the beach it littered with lots of sea debris.

Pretty beach
Look the other way and the beach is covered with rubbush
On our second day we walked out along the headland hoping to find a beautiful beach, sadly the shore was lined with rocks so we were not able to have a dip but I wasn't quite so keen as we watched the nurse sharks exploring the shallows. But it was nice to be able to get off the boat and stretch our legs.

Little nurse shark exploring the shallow

Amanda bravely sitting with 2 nurse sharks at her feet

The blurry mast in the distance is Magnum in Thompson Bay - shame it is so shallow
We sailed north in light winds, the sea as clear as ever hopping around the shallow sand banks frequently in 3m or less and yes more alarms beeping. 

Amanda enjoying the sail - look at the colour of the water!

We crept over a sand bar into a Hogs Cay anchorage and were down to 2.8 but were able to drop anchor in 3.4m.  This is a lovely little anchorage, Hogs Cay is a private island so unfortunately you are not able to go ashore but the main attraction for us was the whistling ducks, we believe there are 200 ashore and you can hear them all day and some of the night!  

The next day brought cloud and rain so no good for snorkelling which was such a shame as the water was amazing clear, from the cockpit we could see the see bed covered in sand dollars and we saw various fish including some reef squid which were quite cool.  We did explore a little in the dingy but had to dodge the rain clouds, the whistling ducks definitely enjoyed the rain more than us.  

Ducks on the roof loving the rain

Ducks on the beach after the rain

We were suffering in the shallow waters and at low water we actually touched bottom and had to drag Magnum forward and then re-anchor when we had more water, this is never a very relaxing position to be in as we knew at low water we could not get out of the anchorage, scary.  Next day we were up and out of the anchorage for 7am to cross the bar, we then anchored a few miles north waiting for the sun to rise enough to navigate into Calabash Bay.  As time rolled on clouds rolled in and by 11am we knew this was not going to be possible, it would have been dangerous to have navigated without the light and risk hitting a coral head so our only choice was to head back to George Town.  Motor on, we spent the next few hours surrounded by thunder storms and water spouts, scary but we motored on.  

Luckily we were only hit by one thunder storm as we entered the harbour, Mark could see very little from the helm but followed our track out to get us in safely if a little wet.

A very wet Mark
It was a relief to anchor in Sand Dollar Bay and be greeted by a turtle. We enjoyed dinner at sunset with the end of the George Town Regatta in the distance in the harbour.

Seeing more of Great Exuma and Little Exuma

We did venture into Georgetown one day (well actually 3 days but 3 time lucky!) and rented a scooter for the day.  Great Exuma is around ? miles long, so first we hurtled off south, Amanda hanging on tightly on the back.  We passed through a couple of settlements including Rolle Town and Ferry which were made up of a couple of houses and churches .  We crossed the Bridge onto Little Exuma, here we stopped in Williams Town at Mom’s Baker which is renowned with the cruisers so we had to buy a cake and enjoy a drink at Santanta Bar and Grill, we believe they have had a range of famous visitors in the past with the cast and crew from Pirates of the Caribbean.  But the only people we were joined by were a couple of cute local kids who were exceptionally chatty.

Mark loving the cake

Amanda soaking up the view

Savanna's funky beach bar

Mom;s Bakery is actually just a small building attached to house - oh and there is Mark by our lovely little scooter
We were then back on the scooter and heading north, stopping at the Tropic of Cancer beach, it was beautiful but unfortunately no time to take a dip. 

What a beach

We whizzed north back through Geroge Town through a few small resorts at Hoopers Bay, there is one main road from north to south so we couldn’t really get lost.  We reached the luxurious Sandals Resort at Rockers Point, there is also a marina here at Emerald Bay.  We had been recommended Big D’s Conch Spot so here we stopped for lunch. 

Big D's
What was we had met a lovely French couple Isabelle and Michael a few days early, the have a Centurion 45 and we had chatted to them at the anchorage and they had invited us of for Ti Punch.  They had recommended that we visit Big D’s and as we turned up they also arrived! They were staying at the marina as had some visitors and had a car for the day so were also out for lunch, it was really nice to see them again.

Isabelle & Michael

We had an enjoyable lunch of fish burger, it was made from Snapper and was very tasty.  The beach here was stunning and it was nice to just relax and admire the view.

Mark in patiently waiting whilst his tummy rumbles

Yep another amazing beach, this really was a great location to have lunch

Friday, May 2, 2014

George Town - Brits on Tour

We had recently received a mail from Fiona and Ian on Ruffian and knew that they were likely to still be in Georgetown so it was perfect as we pulled into the harbour, saw Ruffian and anchored just next to her just off Stocking Island - - Stocking Island is one side of Elizabeth Harbour, Great Exuma which includes the settlement Georgetown is on the other.

We had originally met Iain and Fiona in Norfolk, Virginia on Gary and Greta’s OCC dock.  We had shared a fun evening so were looking forward to meeting up with them again.  As Iain passed by in his dingy he immediately came over and invited us for drinks onboard Ruffian.  We had a lovely evening with Fiona, Ian, Rob and Sue a couple from Florida who were cruising with their 2 kids and dog.

Next day Ian and Fiona invited for a walk on the beach on Stocking Island, the beach on the Sound side of the island runs for miles and is beautiful.  It was nice to take a dip in the waves as they crashed over the reef.  Ian and Fiona then joined us for the very British pastime of tea but unfortunately no cakes! We shared stories from the previous months and discussed plans for the future, it was great that our paths had crossed again but sad that we had to say goodbye so soon.

Fiona and Ian say goodbye

As they up anchor we wave farewell to Iain and Fiona on Ruffian
As one set of cruising buddies leave another arrives, with Wendy and Graham on board Oystermist but because Elizabeth Harbour is so large we were initially in different anchorage so did not have a chance to catch up.

Over the coming days we enjoyed the delights of Stocking Island, there are various paths that run all over the island which make for some great walks with beautiful views.  Even with 100’s of boats anchored off Stocking island you could often walk for hours and see just a couple of people.

The beautiful rocky coastline on the Sound side of Stocking Island with the waves rolling in

Mark enjoying the view

Just so amazing - look at the colour of the Ocean!

Magnum is at anchor somewhere in all those mast  - look how clear the water is

And again another angle from the top of Stocking Island

Mark taking our morning stroll on Stocking Island

With another front due we had to move anchorage to get better shelter from the wind which would touch every point of the compass. This involved a quick motor across the Bay to just outside Georgetown but for us it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere are the water here is shallow.  We dropped the anchor jumped in the dingy and rushed over to say Hi to Wendy and Graham on Oystermist where we went on board to catch up.

If the forecast had been accurate this would have been a perfect anchorage but as the wind turned easterly – not forecasted for the night we rolled all night! Shattered the next day we did managed to spend some time ashore just to get off the boat and some more time with Wendy and Graham.  Thankfully the weather did start to swing southerly so we benefited from the move and the next day when the winds came up we were getting better shelter but by the afternoon the wind swung to westerly and drove swell down the harbour and as soon as it started to move north west we were upping anchor with Mark pitching on the deck but quick motor back to Monument and we things were improved.

Here we stayed for yet another week, walking on Stocking Island, swimming in our pool and making the most of the internet.

View from top of Stocking Island - Sorry but had to compress photos to upload so quality a bit poor