Entries

Florida to Bimini

Water

Island Economy

Nassau

Exuma Islands

Allen's Cay

Highborne Cay

Wardrick Wells Cay - Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park

 

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To and From The Bahamas, 2008

Florida to Bimini
by Mary

On April 6 we left Florida in the company of Terry and Kitty on Cytherea. After the stormy night, It took them a while to decide if they were truly going to make the crossing, so we got a later start than anticipated. It turned out that the storm was already far out to sea leaving us with a pretty easy crossing - wind and seas were both good.

We had the main sail up but when we tried to put the genoa out, we discovered that the port winch is broken: it wouldn't hold. We managed to wrestle the genoa sheet under control, and in the process Neal got a finger caught in the wraps on the winch but was able to get free without any real damage to either skin or bone. A close call. Once we got the sail furled, the rest of the trip was peaceful and uneventful.

The next challenge was finding the entrance to the channel into North Bimini Island. Luckily a third boat heard the conversations between us and Cytherea and gave us good directions. Finding a marina deep enough for us took a while, but we were tied up at Bimini Big Game Club by 4:30 in the afternoon.

North Bimini Island is about 7 miles long and, at it widest point, 700 feet wide. The marinas are at Alice Town, the largest community on the island, and that's also where you clear in to customs and immigration. It's a tiny town but it does have churches and schools. The main road is paved. It's a British Commonwealth country, so they drive on the "wrong" side of the road. I was surprised at how many cars there were in a place that small. A car must be a significant status symbol. In a place where one is not necessary The main forms of wheeled transport were scooters, golf carts and bicycles. But there's nothing you can't walk to.

People were all friendly - greeting us and one another as we walked around town. It reminded me of any small town where everyone knows everyone else and also know everyone else's business. We strolled the town, spent time in the pool at the marina and watched the fish swimming around the docks. This was our first experience with the unbelievably clear water of the Bahamas. We ate at the marina restaurant where we discovered a rum drink called Bahama Mama. We had a great breakfast at Captain Bob's one morning. There's not a lot to do in Alice Town, but I liked it there.

     

On the 10th we headed for Nassau. We'd had no intent to visit Nassau, but decided that we needed to top off with fuel before heading farther afield. This passage took us across the Great Bahama Bank, south of the Berry Islands On the way, we anchored on the Bahama Bank overnight and then headed into Nassau.

Water
by Mary

The waters of the Bahamas are renowned for clarity. It's almost impossible to describe. The closest I can come is to say that it is like looking into a gem stone. The white sand bottom under the shallow water gives a perfectly breathtaking turquoise color to the water. Even in the few deeper areas, when the light is right you can see the bottom through 30 feet of water. The Bahamas are perched on a huge limestone plateau. Depths over the Bahama Banks are generally less than 20 feet. The tides washing over the banks keep the water clear. It is astounding and I can't stop looking at it.

Just south of the Berry Islands as you approach New Providence Island where Nassau is located, you enter the Northeast Providence Channel. After traveling over the Bahama Bank where depths average less than 20 feet, you suddenly find yourself in deep water. At one point on our route the chart shows a depth of 2,734 meters which is 9,133 feet. Deep.

Island Economy
by Mary

When you head for the islands, you know things are going to be expensive, but it's still a bit of a shock. On the US mainland, we're so accustomed to unlimited fresh water and electricity that it's easy to forget that those things are not universal. Fresh water, especially, is hard to come by and expensive in the islands. In some places we paid 50 cents a gallon to top off our water tanks, and in Nassau the fee was a flat $8.00 per day. Electricity was also metered and more costly in the islands. Unfortunately, we discovered too late in our trip that we should have replaced the membranes in the watermaker, so we forked over more $$ for water than we should have. Next season we'll know better.

Nassau
by Mary

We stayed at a marina in Nassau mostly because the guide books warn that it may not be safe to anchor because of thievery. They recommend the safety of a marina with a security presence. That didn't do much to give us warm fuzzies about the city but we did see many boats anchored in the harbor. We lucked out because our marina was just across the street from a shopping center with a great supermarket (except for the meat department). We walked to The Poop Deck, a popular restaurant and had an expensive but just ok meal. We had a breakfast at a restaurant with a menu apparently aimed at locals. We did not have sheep's tongue souse, or stew fish head, or stew fish meat. Much as we like to say that we like to sample local cuisine, we do have limits. Good old eggs and toast for us. From Nassau, we headed to Allen's Cay, our first stop in the Exumas.

Nassau, Bahamas - April, 2008
click here for more photos of Nassau
     


Exuma Islands
by Mary

The Exumas was our destination for this trip. This chain of islands begins southeast of New Providence Island and continues in a southeast direction. Our first stop was Allen's Cay. We got there on April 14.

Allen's Cay

The Allen's Cay claim to fame is that it is one of the last natural habitats of iguanas in the Bahamas. There's a nice little anchorage bounded by Allen's Cay, Leaf Cay and SW Allen's Cay. The iguanas are found on Leaf Cay and SW Alllen's Cay. They're quite an attraction. Every day excursion boats from Nassau arrive and disgorge dozens of tourists onto the beach to see them. As soon as the critters hear boat motors, they come scampering out to the beach hoping to be fed. They're not exactly beautiful creatures, but they are kind of cute as they scurry along on their short little legs. They're fun to watch as they vie for the food being tossed to them and chase one another.

This was a very nice anchorage. We dinghied around and explored a little and I fed the iguanas some lettuce. The few pieces of boat wreckage we saw scattered around the area were an omen. When it came time to leave, we found our anchor chain wrapped around a long jagged piece of metal that had looked like rock on the sea floor. Apparently swinging around the anchor on a stormy night had got the chain wrapped around it. The offending object was covered with sea growth, and was at least 13 feet long with rod-like projections that wouldn't let the chain slide off. We brought it up as far as we could with the winch and then we both got into the dinghy to grapple with it. With great effort, Neal was finally able to lift it far enough that we could get the chain free. Never a dull moment!

 
     

Highborne Cay

Our next stop on April 14, was Highborne Cay where we anchored for a couple of days just off the western shore. We did some exploring by dinghy, but the highlight here was the fish - remoras. Remoras are strange fish that have huge suckers on their heads by which they attach themselves to sharks, whales, boats, ships, and occasionally divers. They're not parasites, they're hitchhikers . We discovered them when I'd cooked too many noodles for a casserole and tossed the excess overboard. One, then two more came racing out from under the boat. So we'd occasionally toss more food out to them. Now, after seeing photos of remoras attached to divers, I'm very glad that I didn't follow up on my impulse to get it the water to see if they'd fastened themselves to our hull. Here's more info on remoras.

Highborne Cay is the northernmost inhabitated Exuma island, but it's a private island and the only inhabitants are all employees. There's a marina that also has a few cottages for rent, and a caterer who delivers meals to boats in the marina. We went into the marina for a couple of nights to get fuel, showers, and get rid of trash. In a huge splurge, we ordered dinner from the caterer: BBQ ribs, rice & peas, cole slaw, a rum cake and a loaf of fresh baked bread. The cost was outrageous, but while the ribs were just enough for the two of us, we had enough rice and cole slaw for three meals so we rationalized the expense. In the marina we saw a nurse shark and a huge barracuda - no doubt they look for leftovers from the boats. At low tide in the shallows there were also numerous colorful tiny fish staying out of reach of the big guys.

Highborne Cay - April, 2008

Warderick Wells Cay - Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park
by Mary

On April 22, we moved to Warderick Wells Cay bypassing a number of islands on the way. Shroud Cay is said to be very interesting but it is a mangrove swamp which means it's loaded with no-see-ums and that's a terrible problem for Neal. Next time we'll probably stop at Norman's Cay but we sailed by it this time.

Warderick Wells Cay isheadquarters of the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park. The park covers 176 square miles including several cays and extends about 4 miles out to sea on either side of the cays. It was established in 1958 and has served as a model for similar parks around the world. The entire area is a no-take zone: nothing can be removed from the park - no fishing, no shelling. Just pristine waters, sea life safe from harm or capture, and great places for diving and snorkeling. Click here for more info about the park.

We took a mooring here and settled in for a while. We hiked the trail to BooBoo Hill where people leave mementos of their visit - pieces of wood with their boat names. We explored by dinghy. We even tried kayaking in a two-person kayak. We managed to stay upright so we consider it a success.

The big surprise was to see two Saga 43s (boats like ours) coming in one day. So we got to meet more Saga owners - always a pleasure - and we hope to see them again as we travel north this summer.

Our friends Jennifer & Jim Bagley met us here, too. They'd been in the islands for several weeks and had been farther south. It was great to see them again and spend a couple of evenings together comparing notes and sea stories.

The outboard motor had been acting up so one morning, Jim came over to give Neal a hand trying to diagnose the problem. Jennifer was snorkeling so I decided to go in, too. Turned out not to be a good idea. I picked a poor situation for my first snorkeling experience - the strong current proved too much for me. It took much more effort than I'd expected and I ended up grabbing onto another boat's mooring line and climbing up their swim ladder for Jim to come and get me (Neal was working on his motor). I'll be more conservative for my next try.

Once the outboard was put back together and seemed to be running, we went out for a ride accompanied by the Bagleys in their dink. It was on this ride that the outboard failed. It lost power. The engine was running but we were getting very little thrust so we limped back to the mooring field and almost made it home before we completely lost forward motion. Luckily Jim was able to tow us back to Sea Fox. We'd lost our water-borne mobility.

Thus ended our Exuma adventure. It was May 2, and our insurance wants us north of Savannah by June1. Time to head home.

Warderick Wells Cay - April, 2008
click here to see more photos of Warderick Wells
     

The plan was to head straight for Nassau for fuel and groceries and then on to Lake Worth, Florida. When we arrived in Nassau, we headed right for a restaurant that serves cheeseburgers. The next day we went grocery shopping and had pizza for dinner. After being away for several weeks, it was good to have US-type comfort food. In the grocery store, we ran into Roy and Doon from Bold Endeavour, who we last saw in Annapolis last summer. These were the people who we met on the ICW at the Alligator River on our way north last year.. They'd also been cruising the Exumas and were on their way back to the US.

On Monday, May 5, we left Nassau harbor only to discover engine trouble and head right back to the marina. There seemed to be a problem with the throttle linkage - not getting as much power as we should and the sea water cooling seemed to be having a problem. Neal changed the raw water pump impeller which brought the cooling sytem back to normal. The throttle problem remained a mystery but we finally left Nassau again on May 13. This time we were headed directly for the US with no stops; taking the deep water route - the Northwest Providence Channel. Wind and waves were higher than predicted, but we had no storms. This is a very busy route - the cruise ships heading from Florida to Nassau all travel this way, and cargo ships bound for the Bahamas also use this route. We saw more traffic on this passage than on any other we've made.

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