Thursday, April 26, 2012

Back to the Cold Hard North

Spring was over in Inagua—hot, sweaty, and we actually snorkeled without wetsuits a couple of times, however we reluctantly made one last dive and headed back north to the Acklins.  This time we did not stop at Hogsty Reef and it was a long but good sail to Datum Bay in 6-12 foot seas.  Our boat does the big waves much better than 2-4 footers.  It just rolls up and down with little slamming but you still can’t do much but sit and read a book.  The first thing I noticed was that it was COLD—well… colder.

From Datum Bay it was a short hop to Fish Cay where we found some great beachcombing.  Heart urchin shells were everywhere—I was amazed that so many were intact since they are quite fragile.  The beach was criss-crossed with crab and lizard tracks.  Bill finally spotted a small green iguana hiding under a bush—very unlike the large pink and grey ones in the Exumas, these iguanas were shy—not conditioned to people feeding them.  The curly-tailed lizards were another story, though.  I stooped to take a picture of one and 2 more approached me and continued to run around my feet until I moved on.  On the way back to the boat we snorkeled on some patch reefs. 

Another short trip and we arrived back at Long Cay.  Our stay there before was cut off because we needed to find a more sheltered area across Acklin Bight so that we could change the dingy motor’s water pump.  I took more than 100 pictures (I do love digital) of the flamingos using the longer lens that I had not brought with me last time.  After taking pictures we went ashore and hiked the road to the village of Albert Town on the other side of the island.  The camera ran out of battery just as we landed, but we saw several goats as we hiked the dirt road up hills and down into swamps and salt pans.  The town was supposed to have some very friendly people but it was completely deserted.  No one was there—kind of eerie.  Later on we figured that since it was Wednesday, everyone may have taken the government ferry to Crooked Island to get groceries.  When we got back a couple of fishermen were just coming in—the first people we had seen all day.

Some windy weather was approaching so our next destination was the protected harbor at Clarence Town, Long Island.  We had been to the north end of Long Island in previous years but not the southeastern side.  We anchored next to an inviting island that I kayaked over to early the next morning.  I watched the storm coming as I took pictures of critters exposed and in the tide pools.  Rounded weathered coral was piled among the iron shore and similar piles from another time were embedded in the rock.  I got back to the boat just as the storm hit. 

Clarence Town is famous for its 2 churches built by Father Jerome in the late 1800s, who was first an architect (among several other things including both an Anglican and Catholic priest) sent to rebuild churches after a hurricane.  His churches feature sturdy block roofs.  The Anglican Church there had a partial shingle roof that had been removed by the hurricane last year.  The Catholic Church had a completely block roof and was unharmed.  We picked up some good fresh bread from the bakery and some very reasonably priced produce and did laundry—clean clothes are nice!  We do have a washing machine on board but we have found that our watermaker makes water at a slow rate so we have chosen not to use the washing machine—something to upgrade for next trip. 

We were eager to get to good snorkeling and diving at Conception Island and sailed out of Clarence Town right after the bad weather was over and got there just in time to do some snorkeling at a shallow elkhorn reef we had visited 3 years ago.  Much of the coral was shattered but still live lying on the bottom and some of it scoured and replaced by algae.  Shallow water corals are subject to battering by waves and shifting sand—the facts of life in that habitat—it was a bit depressing but there were signs of regrowth.   On the other side of the island were massive coral heads riddled with large caves and swim- throughs.  Surprisingly few fish were on these reefs where there were many fish on the inside reefs.

A large creek leads into the interior of Conception Island and we were able to take the dingy quite a ways up it through the mangroves.  It was strange to see sparkling blue water in the mangroves where I am used to seeing more greenish water. Small Green Turtles, stingrays and sharks darted out of the way as we motored through.  A trip around the rest of the island was hampered by waves but the sculptured stone sand dunes were spectacular. Tropic birds soared above us, appearing blue from the reflection of the blue water on their pure white feathers. In fact white boats and even the clouds are often that beautiful-water blue. 

When there is no internet access (which is most of the time), we have to depend on weather information at 6am (after the reading of the constitution preamble and morning devotion) from the Bahamas AM Radio Station in Nassau which is inconsistent at best.  Another upgrade for next time will be an SSB radio that will be able to access more reliable weather information.   We had gathered enough information from the outdated internet weather download and the radio though to know that a cold front and low pressure system were approaching and the next legs of the trip would have to be planned around suitable harbors of which there were going to be very few of in our path.    So we decided to head for the southeastern side of Cat Island where we would get shelter from the first impacts of the approaching weather system. 

Indeed the barometer dipped as the thunderstorms rumbled by and the wind kicked up into the 30s.  All day was overcast and raining—the first time we have had this type of weather all trip.  We thought we might leave Monday but, instead decided to ride it out a little north at New Bight.  After a day cooped up in the boat we were ready to get off and we braved the waves and spray to go to town.  We were able to pick up a few items that we had to get back to the boat.  I had hoped that we could hike up Mt. Alverina, the highest hill in the Bahamas where Father Jerome built his retirement home however, it was too rough to return. 

The next day promised to be better—the wind had laid down and we headed out for Eleuthera Island right after sunup.  We knew this to be a long trip but the wind came back up with pounding 2-4 foot waves and unfavorable wind and current direction which made it a pretty miserable passage.  We finally gave up on the sails—tacking only changed the direction of the wind (funny how that happens)—and made the trip longer.  We usually leave one sail up to stabilize the boat but it made no difference when we took them down.  A crack in the deck had been discovered in Clarence Town a few days ago where one of the shrouds (these are the wires on the side that hold up the mast) was attached.  This may have happened during a hard unexpected jibe (when the sail switches sides due to a switch in boat direction or wind).  The manufacturer of the boat said it should be ok but to be careful with it until we can get it checked out. 

We dared hope that Rock Sound would be as quiet and protected as described in our cruising guide.  We were exhausted when we anchored about 10pm and shut off the engines—there was complete and utter quiet and NO boat motion or water noise.  It was very weird and we had the first good night’s sleep in a long time.  In the morning I picked up books, papers, tools, etc that had been thrown around, we moved the boat closer to the town and dingyed in. The restaurant on the beach offered free wifi but it was not working—however there was a beautiful view while we ate lunch.  There is a real grocery store here—something I have not seen in several weeks—all in all a very pleasant place to stay.  Except for one thing—it is cold—62 F yesterday morning. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Filling In

We found good internet here in Matthew Town on Inagua. This is the only town on this relatively large island at the most southern tip of the Bahamas. For the past few days we have been anchored in Man O War Bay (about 10 miles north of the town) which is probably the closest place to Heaven on earth. There is reef just off the stern and it goes on and on--any water depth you wish to dive. The water is clear and blue because the oceanic water is less than 1/4 mile away.

When we left Georgetown I was pretty good about recording what was happening day by day but it didn't last. Here it is--I will try to fill in the holes later.

George Town to Acklin Islands


Kitty gave me that “oh no—not this again” look and headed off to the back bunk when Bill started the engines. We pulled up the anchor just before 8am. There was an organized cruisers rally to Long Island and we passed a few early starters as we left Elizabeth Harbor. The channel is lined with rocks and reefs and the 4-5 foot swell coming from Exuma Sound crashed on the rocks. About 10:00 am we crossed the Tropic of Cancer and officially entered the tropics. There is a cut through the Little Exumas that would give us a straight shot to the southern tip of Long Island; however the tide was not favorable for that passage so we rounded Sand Cay at the very end of the Exumas and met up with our course on the other side. As we rounded Sand Cay the Long Island Rally sailboats made a beautiful sight.

The swell decreased on the banks and the fishing lines were set up in hopes of catching dinner. Not too long and a barracuda hit one of the lines but cut the lure off as Bill reeled it in. We didn’t want a barracuda anyway. I reeled in another one and we gave up fishing until we got into the deeper water. Then we got lucky and Bill brought in a beautiful Cero Mackerel.

Due to having to go around, we realized we weren’t going to make it to our planned destination so we came in closer to shore and anchored in anticipation of a fresh fish dinner. Just after we anchored, a fishing boat approached and asked about where they could get fuel. This made us a bit nervous since we were out in the middle of nowhere and it seemed odd that people would be out here with not knowledge of the area. We directed them best we could to a town about 12 miles south. It was getting dark and I hope they made it. In any case we didn’t see them again.

3-18-12 Sunday

Another long day of traveling—so we got up at sunrise and made way through a morning of small squalls and rainbows. When we passed the tip of Long Island we were “out at sea” with 4-6 foot seas and some 7-8 footers. The boat rides up and down the big waves well--it’s the 2 footers that make for a rough ride. We made good time across the Crooked Island Passage and rounded the tip of Long Cay about 3:00. The water in the bight was an amazing emerald green color. I made up some salsa and baked the fish in it.


We are now in the Acklins, a remote set of Islands grouped around a shallow bight. There are a few small settlements and at one time ships stopped to refuel with coal here. The radio is silent and we have not seen any other boats other than a couple of fishermen in skiffs. We are now truly on our own. After 2 days of sailing all day we took it easy but by early afternoon my gills were getting dry and I was ready to see what was in the water. Unfortunately, the tidal current was swift and I ended up hanging onto a line taking a look at the grassy bottom where I saw starfish, sand divers, and watched several tiny flounder chase each other around. What I wanted to do was take a look at the dark spots where I expected to find patches of coral or rock. Finally the current calmed down and I swam out about 100 yards to the nearest patch. I was surprised to find a very thick grass patch with potholes in the middle. Several large squirrelfish, grunts, tangs and Nassau grouper were squirming in and out of the holes pushing each other out of the way. I have no idea what they were doing. Also I saw 4 lobsters! I yelled for Bill to bring me the gloves and tickler and I found 2 of legal size. We visited several more of these dark patches and found them to be similar. It doesn’t look like we will go hungry here.


Happy Spring! The Acklin Bight is shallow but large and not particularly sheltered from the east wind which happened to go with the outgoing tide. However when the tide changed, the forces of the wind and current worked to position the boat broadside to the waves which tends to roll you out of bed. This happened early in the morning when I wasn’t really ready to wake up but going back to sleep was impossible.

Long Cay has a population of flamingos that we were eager to find so we repositioned the boat closer to the shore we expected to find them. In fact we could see them as a pink smudge just off the beach. We launched the dingy and took pictures but discovered the engine was overheating and barely made it back to the boat. This is not a good place to have boat trouble—no one to help but we were ok. Now we need to find a more sheltered place so that we can remove the motor to replace the water pump—at least we have one. Tomorrow the plan is to travel across the bight to Ackland Island where there is anchorage sheltered from the east wind. We were planning to be there Thursday anyway because the weather forecast was for the wind to pick up.


Strong squalls the night before allowed for little sleep—there was no lightning but the rain came down horizontally in 40mph winds. Anchor held well. In order to have the deepest water possible across the bight, we started at sunrise and crossed to Delectible Bay at Acklin Island with no problem. The wind is still blowing hard but we are better sheltered from the waves and currents. Another boat came in the afternoon.


Got out the kayak today and headed for shore. I first visited the ruins of the government dock. A supply ship was waiting to unload at a landing place a little ways up the island closer to the village. The interior of the island has a lake and I set out to find the inlet. The inlet was barely deep enough for the kayak and the lake was very shallow. I was hoping that there might be flamingos there but there were no birds. I am puzzled by the lack of waterfowl and seabirds in the Bahamas. I saw a few terns on the dock and a heron in flying in the distance—no seagulls—very strange but typical.

While I was gone, Bill rigged up the dingy motor so we can lift it onto the boat for repairs. We will wait for the wind to calm down a bit before we do that. We did put a new water pump on the dingy motor and got it working--Hurray!!!

The next day we headed for Datum Bay at the southern tip of Acklin Island. We found some good snorkeling there but were eager to get on to Hogsty Reef. The crossing to Hogsty was a motorsail crossing because the wind was right out of the direction we were going. Hogsty Reef is an Atoll (a circular reef created from a sunken island)--the only one in the Atlantic--and if you want to be out there in the middle of the ocean, this is the place. I have a picture from the air that I took on the way to Barbados last year. To our surprise, there was another boat anchored there and we soon met Alex and Maria from Austria. They went snorkeling with us and helped us eat the huge lobsters Bill and I caught. It seems that Hogsty Reef had been an exciting place a couple of days before we arrived. A fishing boat came in with a crew that did not really know what they were doing anchored on the wrong side of the reef then they lost their anchor. The coast guard came and picked them up--the boat was abandoned. As we were talking about this we asked what the name of the boat was--Fish Master--This was the same boat that approached us asking for where to get fuel at Long Island. I don't know what the deal was with them. They appeared to not know what they were doing and told the coast guard that they had no food or water.

The anchorage at Hogsty Reef afforded little protection and we had bouncy nights with little sleep. So we think it was Thursday that we crossed to Inagua. We had great wind and sailed at about 8 kts with a reef in the sail. NO MOTORS!!!--Love it! Bill wanted to go into Alfred Sound but it was too choppy so we ended up at Man O War Bay--calm waters and a good night's sleep were welcome. And, as I said--Beautiful!!