Saturday, February 18, 2012
ABACOS ISLANDS: Tanning our toes in the Abacos
A New Year and New Adventures.
5th -14th January 2012 : Elbow Cay & Great Abaco Cay
Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Cay is the biggest town in the entire Abaco chain and it’s the only town that has a traffic light!. Good provisioning is available here as well as a couple of marinas for those so inclined, but as is the norm with us we prefer to anchor. While we were here we bumped into our English friends Robby and Jenny off Maymio, and had a terrific evening on their boat with their friends who had flown in from the UK for a couple of weeks. From Marsh we had a good six mile sail over to Hope Town on Elbow cay, a cute little town with pastel coloured houses and a cosy harbour, it had a very quaint laid-back feel to it.
A feature of this little place was the abundance of artists there, we would often see them, brushes in hand, standing behind their easels and focusing on recreating a particular element of life in Hope Town. The red and white candy striped lighthouse was definitely the most prominent and highest landmark in Hope Town. Open to the public, it was something of a nice reminder of days gone by, the engineering goes back to the 1800’s and the light is actually generated by fuel from high-pressure kerosene tanks, the lighthouse keeper starts it up each evening and turns the light off just after dawn. The view from the top was brilliant, the balcony area taking in the harbour as well as beautiful surrounding stretches of water.
Hope Town also had a couple of good restaurants and we enjoyed some excellent food and drinks right on the harbour’s edge.
We liked the place so much that after leaving to spend a few days in a nearby anchorage further down the cay, we returned to the harbour for a couple of extra days. The Hope Town Sailing Club were hosting their first race of the season while we were there, and were encouraging any visiting boats to join in the fun out on the course. As old racers at heart we couldn’t refuse the invitation to enter.
The race was run over a windward/leeward course of about 20 miles with the star of the fleet being a traditional Bahamian sloop, the Abaco Rage, around 35 feet long, with a massive boom and 14 crew aboard, mostly for ballast. It made a spectacular sight powering along in the 12-15 knot breeze, the crew sitting to windward on planks of wood that slid from one side of the boat to the other. Sadly, the main halyard let go and they were forced to retire, after dumping a number of their crew in the drink, that is.
How did we perform? The word “modest” comes to mind. With Annie steering and Liam pulling the strings things were going fine, until the line that ensures the jib sheets (ropes) don’t foul on the mast when tacking decided to let go. Needless to say, each tack now became a real task as the sheet would catch on the mast fittings and take some time and effort to sort out. But we kept at it. Approaching the bottom mark, tearing along at 12-15 knots we actually moved up to second place, only a boat length behind the leader, and then the screecher sheet fouled and we were forced to miss the mark and tidy up the mess. By the time we had our house in order the leaders were gone, and the upwind beat turned into a tough slog as the wind piped up to around 20 knots. With a good deal of relief we crossed the finish line in 3rd place, it was doubtful Liam had another tack in him, he was completely exhausted from all the winching. Sometimes it’s just so hard to get good crew! Meanwhile back at the Sailing Club, a comfortable building about the size of a 2 car garage with an adjoining courtyard area, we were made very welcome and enjoyed the nibbles and presentation and many a chat with the locals, they were an exceptionally friendly bunch and invited us back anytime we were in the vicinity.
The next morning we left Hope Town and moved down the cay to a small sand spit named Tahiti beach. It was fairly isolated area, just a couple of docks and a few houses, and a perfect sand spit that we deemed ideal for a beach bon-fire. Firewood was plentiful and we soaked up a great sunset while sipping some cool sundowners and stoking the fire, not a bad way to wind up the day, what do you reckon?
By now we were close to the bottom of the Abaco chain, with only Little Harbour and a beach-side restaurant named Pete’s Pub left to visit. We had a nice sail down and picked up a mooring ball in Little Harbour, it was getting breezy and the anchorage provided good protection from the building swell. The entrance was very shallow, depths of less than 6 feet were regular and with our depth sounder alarm squealing we pondered our chances of leaving the harbour at mid-tide the following day. Pete’s Pub was a very laid back place, sand between your toes, a minimal menu but ok food and pleasant surroundings. There is really not much there, they have a gallery that specialises in bronze sculptures, very intricate and not cheap, one elaborate sculpture sported a prize tag of $120,000!
The following day we departed the Abacos. We had enjoyed around 3 weeks in these waters and really loved it, there are just so many interesting places to visit and the locals and cruising folk always made us feel right at home. Around 10am on January 15th we slipped our mooring lines and gingerly motored out of Little Harbour, it was mid-tide and with over 50 miles to run we were anxious to get going. With the sounder hovering around 5 feet (we draw 4.5 feet) GWTW made a painfully slow exit into deeper water, and a short time later hoisted sail and headed south towards the island of Eleuthera.
CRUISING NOTES: Formalities.Check -in to the Abacos can be made at Green Turtle Cay Marina, Spanish Cay Marina Treasure Cay ,Walker’s Cay or Marsh Harbour. Cost is US$300 if boat length is over 35ft or US$150 if under. Visa time limit depends on the officer but the max we have heard of is 180 days.Supermarkets: Maxwells in Marsh Harbour is the biggest. My advice is to stock up well before you get to anywhere in the Bahamas as everything is a little more $$$ than the USA. Fuel : Most marinas have fuel but it is around US$6 per gallon so fill up your tanks before you get there.
ABACOS ISLANDS: Tanning our toes in the Abacos
A New Year and New Adventures.
1st –4th January 2012 : Great Guana Cay & Treasure Cay
New Year’s morning, after a rather brief and bracing swim, we caught up with Bob and Lorraine on their boat Scaramouche for some yummy cinnamon rolls and glass of bubbly for a toast to our health and welcome in the New Year.Then it was onto shore for a look around and bite to eat. As with most of the Bahamas the buildings are usually painted in very bright colours.and this little place was no exception The paint companies must do a very good trade from the Bahamian people.
Great Guana Cay is one of the most popular islands in the Abacos and home of the legendary bar/restaurant Nippers, where they do a fabulous roast pork lunch every Sunday, which happened to be today. As an added bonus it was also New Years Day and the place was really pumping.
There were lots of long-legged bikini clad girls and bare-chested fellows, loud music with songs we actually liked, a swimming pool, terrific food and a postcard setting perched high on the cliffs overlooking the beach and the gentle rolling swells of the Atlantic ocean.
After our finger-licking-good roast pork lunch and a couple of fun hours at Nippers, we strolled back down the hill towards the boats, but before heading out we needed to spend some quality time and watch a football match at another lively bar, Grabbers beach bar and grill.
Grabbers was nestled between the tress right on the beach near our dinghies, and as the patrons were often sailors or people interested in cruising, it was ever so easy to lose a few hours there chatting away, and we did, maybe too many hours really. Anyway, it was the first day of 2012 so we felt that our big day out was justified, though the credit card certainly took a beating!
By now we were about half way down the chain of islands that makes up the Abacos,where does the time go?, and with a forecast of gale force winds our focus moved from sightseeing and socialising to finding shelter from the nasty winds that were due over the next few days and the small harbour over at Treasure Cay looked like it would be a good spot. Once we were settled in it was time to stretch the legs and have a look at the place.Treasure Cay has a smallish community with a few shops, a big marina which also incorporates apartments, pool, restaurants etc.There’s a golf course and an airport but it’s claim to fame is its beautiful powdery white sand beach, supposedly one of the top ten beaches in the world. We went for a stroll along it and yep it was very pretty and the sand did feel like talcum powder between the toes.The one thing it was missing in our view was palm trees, now that, I think ,would have put it in up there in the stakes for gorgeous beach status. Maybe a hurricane had blown them all away, who knows, these islands have been hit by a few hurricanes in years gone by.
Just as our grib files (weather) had forecast the winds arrived on cue and we sat through 30 plus knots for a couple of days Our good old Bugle anchor did it’s job yet again and we sat there like a rock without any dramas at all..
Once the wind had passed it was time to move on again, our next destination would be the thriving metropolis of Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Christmas in the Bahamas: Does it get better than this?
23rd - 31st December 2011
It was December 23rd and the weather was sparkling, but lacking any sort of breeze for the 55 mile crossing of the Gulf Stream from West Palm Beach to the Indian Cay channel, on the north-western tip of the Bahamas. Motoring was the order of the day, and while we would have preferred to be sailing, crossing this stretch of the Atlantic can be heavy going at times, so we were quite happy just plodding along on nice flat seas. And in keeping with foreign protocol once we were outside US territorial waters, we lowered the USA courtesy flag and raised the Bahamian one.
Our two fishing lines trolled merrily along behind GWTW and about half way across Liam heard the familiar “ping” of the line, and we reeled in a good size Mahi Mahi, no guesses for what was on the menu for dinner that night!
As we approached the channel, black clouds ahead heralded a large squall that gave us a good wash down of the decks and strong winds. Our final 20 miles were bumpy and rolly, and we closed the Bahamas coastline as a moonless night fell. As is often the case we just needed one more hour of daylight to get to our destination. Rather than stopping at the opening of the channel we decided to push on and anchor for the night on the Bahama Banks, but that was still 8 miles away via a narrow, winding channel, and it was a seriously black night. There were no lights or navigation beacons marking the channel, so we relied heavily on our charts, depth sounder and ipad to navigate our way through, dropping anchor at 7pm on the calm banks in about 10 feet of water. It was a great feeling to be back in the Bahamas.
The next day, Christmas Eve, saw us motoring another 45 miles across the banks to Great Sale Cay. This uninhabited cay (island) has a large bay and is a convenient anchorage for those enroute to the Abocos chain of islands, as we were, further to the east. Once again we anchored in shallow water, 9 feet, along with 6 other boats that were heading our way. It was here that we started to remember from our northbound passage earlier in the year that the waters in the Bahamas are shallow, and as time progressed we became accustomed (well almost) to sailing along in clear water with depths of 15 feet or less, sometimes a lot less.
Christmas day dawned sunny and clear, and surrounded by turquoise water we started the day off right with a quick swim and a chilled glass of champers and orange, followed by the obligatory opening of the presents.
Last Christmas we were at sea, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean heading for Barbados, so a year on it was great to be anchored safely with nice surroundings. Annie produced her usual stunning Christmas fare, roast chicken, crispy potatoes and the whole nine yards including pudding and ice cream.
Feeling the need to share the Christmas spirit, later in the day Liam hopped in the dinghy and invited a Canadian couple, Tom and Delwyn from the neigbouring boat Mahalo, over for a sundowner. As the evening progressed it transpired that they hadn’t as yet had any Christmas fare, and we couldn’t have them go hungry, so out came our leftover chicken and a whole new batch of roast veg. The night was a lot of fun culminating in the four of us singing badly while Liam attempted his usual guitar routine. Our melodic tones probably sounded pretty crazy to the rest of the anchorage but hey, it was Christmas after all.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Abaco Islands : Tanning our Toes in the Abacos!
26th – 31st December 2011
With Christmas finished for yet another year over the next week we moved further east and south, stopping at a few isolated cays for the night and generally getting a feel for the Abacos. There are dozens of islands and they are often only a few miles apart, so we were spoilt for choice as to where to drop the anchor. We visited Moraine Cay which was just gorgeous, Allans-Pensacola Cay where we were the only boat in the anchorage and we built a bon-fire on the beach, and Manjack Cay which is a privately owned island but the owners welcome cruisers to have a look around and use their beach.
Green Turtle Cay was next on the list, the town of New Plymouth was small but very friendly and we took our time to stroll around the pretty streets. It was New Years eve and the annual Jukanoo parade, a type of dress up festival for kids, was due to start at 2pm so we stayed in town and waited and waited for the parade to begin. A few hundred people had turned out to see the parade and there was quite a carnival atmosphere. Many of the restaurants had set up street stalls selling an array of tasty foods, ranging from buffalo wings to conch salad or fritters. Having never tried a conch salad before we opted to share one with just a hint of chilli, it was very tasty but boy, did it pack some punch.
As with most things in the Bahamas island time rules, and after waiting for the parade to start for over two hours, we decided to head back to the boat and move to another anchorage on the next island, arriving just as the sun was setting on 2011. We stayed up ‘till midnight and saw the New Year in at Bakers Bay on Great Guana Cay, where the water was so crystal clear you could see the sandy bottom at midnight in the moonlight, it was pretty cool.
Happy New Year everyone!