Sunday, March 4, 2012

15th Jan –2nd Feb 2012
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From our anchorage in Little Harbour we departed the Abacos chain  and sailed to the island of Eleuthera, some 55 miles to the south. With clear skies and a 10 knot breeze we  were able to sail the entire distance, though sadly it was not one of our faster passages. In yet another “we just need one more hour of daylight” scenarios, we made landfall as darkness descended. With not a sliver of moonlight or ambient light from the shore it was, as Mark from the yacht Balvenie would say , “as black as the inside of a cow“.  The approach to the anchorage was between the Egg islands, one of them quite small and virtually invisible to the naked eye, but not to  the radar, fortunately. Using the chart plotter, ipad and radar we navigated through the gap of around 50 metres and headed towards the beach, only problem was, we couldn’t actually see the beach. When the depth sounder read 10 feet we figured we were about 100 metres from the shore and down went the anchor for the night. We were pretty glad to arrive when we did as the breeze had started to pick up and the forecast was for stronger winds over the next few days.
Next morning we moved a couple of miles further on to Royal Harbour, an uninhabited and very well protected bay, where we sat out the blow. There were a few other boats  there with us and after chatting to a couple of them and learning of the ruins of an Mediterranean style villa ashore, we hopped in the dinghy to check it out. The villa, which had belonged to a now deceased Florida man, had long ago been overrun by vines and trees,but in it’s hay day it must’ve  great.                                  P1172357  P1172356                             P1172355  
Commanding a wonderful view from it’s elevated position it had at least six  bedrooms, an impressive lounge/dining area, fireplaces, two boat docks, one on either side of the island  and the remnants of some once lovely terraced gardens. Beautifully patterned floor tiles could still be seen in many of the rooms and on the covered portico which led to an outdoor entertaining area. As we strolled around it was very easy to imagine yourself sitting there in the breezeway on a hot afternoon surrounded by cascading bougainvilleas, a refreshing  G &T in hand, whiling away the hours gazing out across the surrounding aqua waters. A little piece of the Italian Riviera right here in the Bahamas
Eleuthera is a long skinny island, 110 miles long and only one mile wide in some places. At it’s northern end it is made up of a few small detached islands including Spanish Wells and the exclusive Harbour Island. The latter would be our next target and we had a choice of two ways to get there. Either sail 16 miles outside along the Atlantic Ocean coast of the island to a small dubious entrance at the south end, or take the shortcut of 7 miles and  navigate through a tricky and often dangerous course of reefs, we chose the latter. With a name like “Devils Backbone” you get a sense that these reefs are to be well respected, most cruisers actually hire a pilot from Spanish Wells to guide them around. Anyway, we figured that with good charts and bright sunshine we would be fine. We’d heard that one of those big catamaran ferries made the journey daily from Spanish Wells and as luck would have it, just as we were about to head out towards the reefs, we spotted him a few miles behind us. After a quick call on the radio to check that he was actually going to Harbour Island via the backbone we decided to hang around for a while ‘till he caught  up and then follow him around. Having read and re read our charts and cruising guide on the depths, courses and of course all the  warnings regarding this route we naturally figured that the ferry would take it slow and steady. Wrong! All was looking good for the first few hundred meters as we both crossed a shallow sandbank area and then just as the course started heading out into the reefs he was off like a bat out of hell.
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We tried  hard to keep up and with both our engines flat out we were making 11 knots, but the ferry was doing 12 to 13, so he gradually pulled away from us. And when our port engine overheated and needed to be shut down we abandoned the chase altogether and he disappeared, leaving us to continue on alone.  It turned out to be quite a wild ride, the tide was up and the swell was pumping in over the reefs. We motored along  the beach less than 15 metres off the sand to our right while on our left numerous coral heads lurked just below the surface ready to tear our hull apart should we stray too far over. We have ventured through many hairy reef strewn places since leaving Australia back in 2006 but this was definitely up there at the head of the list. (The red dots on the chart below are all nasty coral heads.)
Our pot of gold after the exciting, although yours truly prefers to say nerve shattering trip around, was to find a wide, calm bay with only a couple of other boats anchored there. Harbour Island read pretty well in the books but our timing  was poor. It was just before the main tourist season  and many places were either closed or generally empty, there just wasn’t the atmosphere that we’d expected. This little island is reputedly a retreat for a few rich and famous celebrities, it’s said that Elle McPherson, amongst others has  a home there. We walked several miles to the northern end of the Island  in the hope of seeing some of these properties but they were all very secluded with high fences and extensive gardens ensuring total privacy, so our efforts were in vain, though getting a bit of exercise was a good thing.
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Next day we stretched our legs on the long beautiful beach on the Atlantic Ocean side of the island named Pink Beach, and yes it does have a tinge of pink in the sand. The day was hot and so were we after the long walk so we hit the surf and then relaxed on the pink sands for a few hours.
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Believe it or not we hardly ever swim at a beach with surf, and it made a nice change, I must say. Being a bit peckish after our swim we stopped at a tiny roadside food stall, Chick’s Cafe, where we gobbled down a tasty lunch of lobster quessadias, they were so good  we asked the lady to make up us up a few more to take away.  I sure wish I’d  got the recipe from her. While munching down our yummy quesadillas we met another cruising couple who happened along, Jay and Barb off  Jupiter’s Smile, and while we only chatted briefly, they too were heading south down Eleuthera, so we were sure we’d run into them again along the way.
After 2 nights at Harbour Island it was time to head back to Spanish Wells.This time the  trip through the Devils Backbone  was far less eventful than the first, the tide was down and so was the swell, and we also had the benefit of following our track on the chart plotters. It was a piece of cake really, and far less taxing on the nerves!
We made a short stop in at Spanish Wells which is a really serious fishing town. It has a reasonable size community that is entirely based on the crawfish (lobster) industry. In fact this little town provides 75% of its annual production of lobsters to the entire Bahamas and to the worldwide markets. As well as the lobster industry  Spanish Wells is also the home port to 25 large sea going trawlers and the infrastructure that supports them. A tourist resort it certainly is not.
It’s a very sedate township and the folk are extremely friendly, as is nearly everyone in the Bahamas. We walked  the entire length of the  town, had a  very simple but tasty meal at a small restaurant and enjoyed a long chat with the young lady serving us. She told us that it is a  very tightly knit community, extremely religious and of sober habits, you cannot buy alcohol in any of the shops or restaurants. After lunch and a quick stop at the supermarket with shopping bags in hand we started the long walk back to our dinghy. A  local fellow stopped and  kindly offered us a lift  back to the docks, probably a couple of miles, we gratefully accepted and quickly climbed into the back of his ute amongst his working gear. He apologized for not offering us  the passenger seat as it was already occupied by his faithful dog, who made a neat sight with his head out the window and ears flapping in the breeze as we drove along.

Before leaving Spanish Wells we bought a couple of good sized lobsters tails,four monster stone crab claws and some fish from the local fishing co-op, it had been a while since we last caught a fish so we made the most of the opportunity. From here it was back to GWTW  and then we motored back  to Royal Harbour for the night as early the next day we would head further down the coast to Hatchet Bay Harbour, some 25 miles to the southeast.

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The anchorage at Hatchet Bay Harbour was big and well protected from winds of any direction but the entrance into it through the limestone cliffs was small, we reckoned we had around 10 feet to spare either side of GWTW as we passed through the man-made opening.
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It was a sleepy little place with colourful houses and not much else, we’d heard from fellow cruisers that you could hire a car to tour the island, and that’s what we did. Not knowing how or where to rent the car Annie walked up to the local Ice / water factory to ask  and they very obligingly made a couple of calls. Around 30 minutes later a young lady arrived with our car and we were set. First we drove north stopping at The Glass Window a natural arch in the rocks, well it used to be until the centre collapsed,  that has the pounding Atlantic Ocean on one side and the tranquil banks of the Bahamas on the other.
The arch  and the roadway above it claim a few lives each year when the curious go to watch the 100ft high walls of water that slam into it during heavy weather, and it was pretty easy to see how that could happen. Then we drove south as far as Rock Sound near the bottom of the island , covering something like 100 miles altogether. Along the way we checked out a couple of future anchorages, Alabastar Bay and Governors Harbour, and they both looked ideal, especially Alabastar Bay with a lovely Italian restaurant nestled on the foreshore.

I must admit our drive was a bit boring as there was only one almost dead  straight road down the centre of the island with low shrubbery on either side so the views weren’t that great ,still it was nice to be out and seeing something other than just our anchorage. At one time the island had had a  cattle raising industry but it failed back in the 70’s and today the only thing left are the remains of a few concrete grain silos.
As we drove through Governors Bay Annie spotted a man setting up an array of lobsters on a table by the beach, and they were big and still alive. We really have become lobster hounds these days and just couldn’t resist the urge so we took  two home for a very reasonable price, after a little haggling that is.
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Interestingly, we encountered only one “stop” sign and never saw any traffic lights the entire day. It was nice to go for a drive, a change to walking everywhere and have a day off the boat.
A 10 mile hop from Hatchet Bay Harbour saw us in beautiful Alabaster Bay with it’s stunning beach and crystal clear waters. Coco Da Mamas, the Italian restaurant we checked out during our island drive, was perfectly positioned only a few yards from the water’s edge. Quite snazzy and well laid out, it had a nice feel and offered inside dining or al-fresco on their deck, and the menu proved enticing so we booked in for lunch the next day. It also was a great setting for sundowners so we took the opportunity to enjoy a couple of afternoon drinks while watching the sunset. The setting, food and service were so good we ended up going back there 3 times!
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To provide some balance,a ka exercise, we decided to embark on an extended beach walk on the Atlantic side and we meandered along for a couple of hours while the waves crashed over endless stretches of reefs. As testament to the forces of nature we found a yacht was firmly nestled deep in the sand, high and dry. And to get there it had traversed a number of reefs lying just offshore, the conditions must have been seriously extreme to carry the boat that distance.
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Leaving the beach we headed inland through the scrub and came across an abandoned USA radar tracking station, probably left over from WW2. Not much remained but you could easily see it was a big production in it’s day, covering many acres. The island has a couple of airports with very long runways, and we figured that these too, would have been constructed by the Americans to facilitate people and equipment movements during the war.
There now remained only two more anchorages to visit on Eleuthera, Governors Harbour, the Islands’ capital and Rock Sound. Governors is a decent size town sporting a couple of banks, supermarkets, restaurants, churches and a good sized dock that caters to the inter-island ferries. Here we caught up with Jay and Barb from Jupiter’s Smile, and also met a couple fairly new to the cruising lifestyle, Trevor and Kristy off Rogue Brit.
Friday night saw the three boats getting together for the regular weekly fish-fry on the waterfront. It was very well attended and ran like clockwork. A couple of fellows manned the charcoal grilles and the deep fryer, while a bevy of helpers sorted the orders and sold drinks. Across the road a few large speakers had been set up, music blaring out so loudly we had to move to another table  to hear each other talk.
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As there was a Baptist church right near the shore and it was Sunday, we considered putting on the good clothes and trotting off  to join the ranks of the believers, not so much for the religious side of things but more for the singing and music that is a major element of the service. But instead, in true cruiser style, Jay, Liam and Annie got together to help Trevor on Rogue Brit with a few mechanical issues he was having. Helping a fellow cruiser is always a high priority  out here when there are no marine resources at hand. As it turned out we didn’t need to go to the church as we could actually  hear the preacher giving a long and spirited sermon from the church some 200 metres away. He was pumped, that’s for sure. After we’d sorted out Trev’s watermaker problems and got it working again everyone downed tools and headed ashore for  a leisurely  mile or so walk  to a local restaurant, the Sunset Inn, for a pleasant Sunday afternoon lunch.
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The weather was due to get a bit nasty  over the coming days and we would have to move on to a better anchorage.  So we were  very happy when the local lobster man showed up again the next afternoon, and we once again parted with a few Bahamian dollars buying three more good sized critters. Our freezer was quickly becoming  dominated by seafood, much to Liam’s delight. If only we could catch the buggers ourselves instead of paying for them.
Rock Sound our next and last port of call on the Island was a fast 20 mile reach down the coast under main and screecher. With a good breeze on the beam we made some good speeds, our highest being 17.3 knots, we averaged over 12 knots for the trip.
Rock Sound is a good place to springboard from across to the Exuma Island chain and that was our plan. Spending two days in Rock Sound along with about 10 other boats was a fairly quite affair, there is not a lot to do there. However Jay, from Jupiter’s Smile, did a great job of  organising a lunch outing to a local restaurant with everyone from the other boats, and it was a nice way to meet all our  new neighbours.
Being in an anchorage with not much to do ashore gave Liam the chance to do a little well needed engine maintenance. Since our port side engine had overheated on the way to Harbour Island he had been treating it with kid gloves and was worried as to the cause. After ruling out the obvious ones he delved deeper and using the process of elimination found the culprit, a mangled raw water pump impeller and mangled it was, with only two of the twelve blades left. It is a wonder that the motor hadn’t shut down all together! After a few hours and much grunting from the captain  while he straddled our engine, the job was done. Where did the broken blades go? We will probably never know. See, there’s always something to do out here.
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One  thing that Rock Sound did have  going for it was a very good supermarket, so once again we stocked up as we knew that the next decent one would not be until we reached Georgetown and that wouldn’t be for another 3 weeks or so. Sometimes it must sound as though we have an addiction to supermarkets, but out here you really have to make hay while the sun shines, so to speak.
And so after spending18 days on the Island of Eleuthera we pulled up our anchor and headed west towards the Exumas.

Cruising Notes:
Fuel. Spanish wells,diesel is $5.36per gallon add 4% if paying by credit card.It is also available from Valentines Marina in Harbour Island & Governors Harbour Shell service station.
 Supermarkets: Spanish Wells, Governor's Harbour and Rock Sound

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