On this journey I have shared a lot about sunsets, beaches, meeting great people and the joy of exploring new places. Certainly, these are the highlights that keep us going. What I haven’t talked much about is the sometimes tough mental aspect of living and cruising on your boat. We have had small pockets of very stressful times (like our alternator alignment issues and our leaking bow thruster) but our more common angst is usually over weather. More correctly, about the weather we need to move further south safely and comfortably. Not everyone reads weather the same way and we are not always in sync with our boat buddies. This can be tough on us mentally, for sure. Being left behind is never fun. But Mike and I have always said that we don’t want to choose to be uncomfortable or unsafe, even if it means saying “see you later” to boating friends.
Most of the time we are just looking for great wind to be able to sail from place to place. These days, though, it is more about getting through some dicey passages with maximum safety, a little bit of comfort and with zero fear or seasickness. Yeah, it can get that bad. For us, we try to study the weather with no hidden agendas. We remove any inkling of a schedule or emotion. When the weather is great and we are well-rested, this is a super easy exercise. Let’s go! When the weather is really not great and is sprinkled with several bits of “maybe” and a few short hours of “pretty good”, but you have already been here for two weeks and all your other boat buddies have already left? Well, that’s when things get a little challenging. Being patient while waiting for the weather gods to cooperate is tough.
All of this is top of mind these days as we sit in Luperon, Dominican Republic. Our next passage is to go all the way east of the country to the town of Samana. From there, we will cross the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico. Both passages need a good long (24 hour) dose of mild weather. Unfortunately, the prevailing weather at this time of year is a strong E-NE wind that whips up every afternoon. Since we are travelling east, we would be travelling directly into it and the high waves and ocean swell that it generates. Yuck. One option is to just grin, bear it and get through. Our two boat buddies went with this option. Without going into details, lots of rocking, rolling and seasickness was part of both of their passages. The other option is to wait and wait and wait for a proper weather window where the wind is mild. These windows come around, only not often. We just need to be patient.
In the meantime, we are here in Luperon and very content actually. We have lots to do tinkering about town or on the boat. The food is delicious and cheap. Ocean has lots of access to shore, ocean swimming and attention from people and other dogs. And we have quite a few boating friends in the anchorage to share our stories, meals and even a beer or two. 😊
Click the link below to see where we are now!
We Are In The Dominican Republic!
Our last day in the Bahamas was an interesting one. We had staged our departure at a remote anchorage on the south shore of Great Inagua in order to shorten the distance we would have to travel to Luperon, Dominican Republic. Instead of 160 nautical miles, we were now looking at 147 nautical miles. This would shave 3 hours off our trip and allow us to leave at daybreak, instead of in the middle of the night. We were thankful for our decision the next morning as we started weighing anchor. Our anchor chain had wrapped itself around a coral head and refused to budge. The only thing we could do was to try to unwrap the chain by moving the boat back and forth and sideways, all while trying not to hit the coral head. Half an hour later...success! This was stressful enough in the daylight - I couldn't imagine the stress if we were trying these maneuvers in complete darkness.
Thankfully, our passage was a very easy one. This wasn't luck though. We spent many hours reviewing weather by ourselves, with our buddy boats and also via a phone call to expert weather forecaster Chris Parker at the Marine Weather Center.
We were able to sail for several hours before the wind turned directly at our bow, where it stayed for 20 hours of our 27 hour trip. To continue to sail would mean tacking the boat across the wind several times, adding many, many hours to an already long passage. So, on went the motor! The sea state was relatively calm for most if the passage, making us far more comfortable than on our last overnight run. This time we got to play some Backgammon and watch a few downloaded shows to pass the time. Fabulous! We did a two hour on and off watch cycle and it worked great since neither of us can naturally nap for more than an hour at a time while on passage. Oh, and we still had an almost full moon to light our way!
We saw the first signs of the Dominican Republic at daybreak. The beautiful trees and mountains are such a contrast to the flat terrain of the Bahamas! Winding our way into the harbour, we were immediately hailed on the VHF radio by a few boaters anchored in the harbour. They gave us the lay of the land and confirmed that they had already contacted the Armada (Dominican Navy) to come check us in. Another big difference between the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic! No computer apps here! In the Dominican you are boarded by the Armada who check your papers, take pictures of you and your boat and then give you clearance to go into Port to finish the check in process with Immigration, Customs, the Port Authority and the Department of Agriculture. Lots of steps but the offices are housed together, air conditioned and the friendly and smiling authorities were quite fine with Ocean being in their tiny 8 x 8 rooms. Easy and very welcoming!
After check in, we needed to go find SIM cards for our cell phones, which was perfect because it also gave us a chance to explore a bit of the town of Luperon. Only we didn't get very far. It was now almost noon and our tummies needed sustenance! We popped into a local eatery for lunch and a giant cerveza (beer) to celebrate our successful passage. It was a wonderful moment to share with our three buddy boats. We had traveled very successfully together throughout the passage, sailing almost in formation. We also took care of one another, checking in overnight and whenever anything notable occurred underway, like cruise ships passing by, moving into the Atlantic time zone, and when our buddy boat "That's It" caught a Mahi-Mahi fish. Oh, and also when they caught their second Mahi-Mahi! Yummy fish dinner coming up!
Luperon has held lots of surprises for us. Everything is super inexpensive (after the very pricey Bahamas, this was a huge delight). And, the locals do not speak any English. No worries, my basic Spanish plus lots of hand movements is getting us through! For Ocean, she has had to do her own acclimatization. Her two triggers in life are motorcycles and other dogs. With both, she must be reminded to stay calm. Well, in Luperon almost everyone gets around by motorcycle and there are stray dogs everywhere. Yikes! Strangely enough, Ocean is finding a nice balance through it all. There are so many motorcycles, she just learned to ignore them. And the stray dogs? They no longer find her interesting. After several days of walking around town, she has become "just another Luperon dog" to them. This isn't true for the locals though. Everyone is impressed with our perro muy grande (very big dog) and that she is a Pastor Aleman (German Shepherd). So much attention!
The next leg of our journey will be to sail to Semana on the east coast of the Dominican Republic. From there, we will await a weather window for crossing the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico. With the weather being wet and windy with high waves and swell for the next week, we will be staying put in Luperon. We are happy though! It will give us a chance to explore the country from our safe and comfortable home base in Luperon.
Click the link below to see where we are right now!
Clarence Town, at the southeast end of Long Island, Bahamas, is a quiet and almost empty little town. It has a small general store where we could get bread and a few shelf-stable groceries but no fresh produce or dairy. There are also a few restaurants on the island and a fairly large marina/resort. Besides the marina, the most active area in town was the government dock. Every Monday, the mail boat arrives at the dock but by Wednesday all of the fresh items not snapped up by locals and cruisers are shipped off to other parts of Long Island. We arrived on Wednesday, sigh.
Our time in Clarence Town was mostly preoccupied with passage planning. The wind, waves and ocean swell were too lively for us to travel before the weekend but the forecast showed that on Sunday or Monday a possible window was opening up to go from Clarence Town to the northwest side of Crooked Island, south to the tip of Acklins (both 7 hour day hops) and then to make the big jump over to Great Inagua. This last bit is about 85 nautical miles so it would mean doing our first overnight sail. We wanted to get our weather window right to make it as safe and comfortable as possible.
We spent many hours studying the weather and discussing options with our boat buddies, Kemana and Kesh. Our weather window for the last two legs of our journey looked great but the wind direction for travelling to Crooked Island, our first leg, wasn’t good at all. Our solution? We decided to cut out those first two legs. The wind was perfect for going straight from Clarence Town to Great Inagua in one big 27-hour sail. This option looked so good, we even picked up a fourth boat for our pod. “That’s It!” a 47-foot Catalina from Canada (also going to Grenada) would be travelling with us.
Monday morning, we weighed anchor at 0700 and set sail. We were excited. Our first passage that included an overnight sail was underway.
We had a beautiful sail from Clarence Town and up to the southwest tip of Acklins. It was one tack and we hit speeds of 8.7 knots. So far, the trip was fun and easy 😊.
But, once we cleared past Acklins Island, we were in the open Atlantic. The wind speed kept its steady 18 to 20 knots but the waves and swell increased significantly. We were rocked and rolled over and over. It was now 1900 hours. Nighttime had arrived. Thankfully, we had an almost full moon illuminating the ocean. Both Mike and I stayed in the cockpit all night, trading off shifts at the helm. Every two hours, one of us would monitor the dashboard and the other would sleep. Our automatic pilot did all the steering. Our pup Ocean stayed in the cockpit with us all night, sleeping the whole time. What a great sailing pup!
During the night, the rocking from the swells was uncomfortable, for sure, but we got used to the motion. Well, except for the really big swells that would hit the boat broadside every minute or so. Yeesh. Movement during those times was impossible without getting launched sideways. We were safely tethered though so no midnight swims!
When the sun peaked out at 0600, we could see Matthew Town and all was right with the world. We had done it! Our first overnight sail in the open ocean. We were anchored at Matthew Town at 0700 on Tuesday morning, a full three hours earlier than planned. A sweet treat was a solo dolphin that greeted our arrival and hung around while we finished anchoring. Ocean loved the little guy! Our three other buddy boats arrived at the anchorage shortly thereafter.
Matthew Town was wonderful. Ocean was a hit, once again, with the locals. People love her sunglasses! Besides exploring, we picked up a few necessary grocery items for the next overnight leg. We learned that you have to have food at the ready (cooking and moving around the boat is extremely difficult on a passage) so we grabbed more granola bars, muffins and easy to make instant soups. The most interesting errand of the day, however, was getting fuel. Matthew Town doesn’t have a proper fuel dock. Instead, you call a guy and he brings fuel to the dock. So, we called “the guy” and he said he was out of fuel until at least the weekend. “No, no” we were told, “You called the wrong guy. Call this guy.” Called the “other guy” but same answer. No fuel until at least the weekend. George the Harbourmaster then came up with a third guy to call. Well, three times is the charm! This guy arrived at the dock in his car and took all of us to his place of business in town to get the pre-ordered fuel needs for all four boats. While he topped up our jerry cans, we learned that his place of business doesn’t just do fuel top ups. No, he also runs a bar, restaurant, liquor store, hair salon, ice cream parlor, contracting work and a radio station in the same building. Now that is multi-tasking!!
Although Matthew Town is an inviting little Bahamian town, our main focus was to rest, get a few necessary groceries, fuel-up and get going to the Dominican Republic. We have a beautiful weather window opening up for Friday and want to make sure we are ready to go. Wednesday was busy with preparations and also moving the boat to the south shore of Great Inagua to shorten the distance to Luperon. By staging the boats at Lantern Head, our trip becomes 147 nautical miles, almost three hours shorter. We can’t wait!!
Click the link below to see where we are right now!
On The Move Again
Our two weeks in George Town were really wonderful. It is a fun place to hang out for a bit, especially with our buddy boats also being in town. We arrived in George Town with Steve from Lola, and about a week later Ted & Evelyn (Sensai) also arrived. Fabulous!
Lucky enough, the George Town Regatta was also on during our stay in George Town. This annual festival is an event-filled, well-organized week of activities. There was always lots to do – sailboat races, a dinghy poker run, various on-shore games and this is in addition to the usual sundowner get-togethers, pig roasts and volleyball games.
We got to watch a lot of activities but we were also busy doing our own thing - exploring George Town and Stocking Island, relaxing on the numerous beaches and going into town for a late afternoon beer ($2 for a Sands beer – the cheapest we have seen!). We were also able to get a few grocery and liquor items at far better prices than we had seen in the Exumas. The only issue was availability. Both George Town supermarkets regularly ran out of fresh vegetables, bread and snacks but with over 350 boats in the harbour, it is not a surprise that they might run out of a few things!
During the second week, Steve’s daughter Val also arrived (by plane) for a one-week vacation aboard Steve’s boat Lola. What a great time! We got to take her to some of the great George Town beaches, and she got to enjoy some of those Regatta activities. We even had an amazing birthday dinner for her at the Exuma Yacht Club. Best sushi ever!
But the days went by quickly. On Tuesday, Val’s flight was set to take her back to snowy Ottawa and Wild Horses had a plan to weigh anchor and head further south. So, the day before departure, we decided to fit in one more beach day and a great walk through the Art Trail. But the best part was a farewell show put on by two playful dolphins. These lovely creatures found their way into the harbour and, from our dinghies, we watched in awe as they played around the bow of a catamaran, rubbing their noses on the anchor line and swimming with two divers who were cleaning the bottom of the boat. It was spectacular.
On Tuesday February 28th, we said our very sad farewells to Lola and Sensai and weighed anchor. We needed to get going in order to take advantage of a nice weather window to start our journey further south to the outer Bahamas. Both Lola and Sensai were going to stay in George Town a few more days, and then start to head back north. They both have lots of time left in the Bahamas but this will be their turnaround point.
From George Town, we crossed over to Long Island and then up and over the top of Long Island to make our way to Clarence Town, which is on the southeast side of Long Island. From this point, we will have easy access to the Crooked Islands, Acklins Island and then onto Great Iguana, which will be our final spot in the Bahamas. From Great Iguana, we will travel approximately 160 nautical miles (30+ hours) to the Dominican Republic. But we won’t be travelling alone. We have two new buddy boats! We met both boats in George Town and planned a route and timing to get to the Dominican Republic. Matt (from Kesh) will be joining us only to the Dominican Republic but Pam and Kim (from Kemana) will be going all the way to Grenada, just like us. It is a great group and we have enjoyed our first few days sailing together.
This sailing gig is a funny thing. Lots of adventures, beautiful vistas and great food. And you get to share it with really great people you meet along the way. Having to move on without them and saying “until next time” is always hard but, without it, you don’t get to say “well, hello again!”. Until we meet again Sensai and Lola!
Our Colourful Ocean
George Town has been a wonderful place to relax, stock up on a few things but also to prepare for the next leg of our journey. We have had very easy days of sleeping in and very full days of hanging out at the beach, hiking the many trails on Stocking Island and exploring George Town and a good portion of Great Exuma Island.
And all of this has been with our pup Ocean alongside. She has truly made this trip so much more colourful and fun.
When we were planning this journey, so many years ago, we knew we would have our dog with us. We have always sailed with our dog, first Brecken and now Ocean, and they have been nice companions to have along. But easy? Well, having a dog on board means extra gear, extra cleaning (the dog hair is no joke!), extra trips to shore and extra worry about safety and comfort. With this bigger journey, there is also the extra expense and work to meet the requirements for entering a new country. So far, we have only had to enter the USA and the Bahamas (both were easy) but in the next three months we will be entering and exiting several countries as we make our way south to Grenada. Many of these countries require a vet check before arriving and another once we have landed, plus a check on her vaccinations and identification. Plus, a pet permit and, of course, import fees. Yeesh. So, is it worth it? YES!!!
The biggest surprise for us with this journey is how much better it is with Ocean on board. It is incredible to us how many more people, locals and cruisers alike, that we get to meet because of Ocean. She always gets attention. Her size is the biggest draw with locals. They can’t believe such a big dog is so sweet. Add to this her beautiful dark fur and a frisbee, well, it is the rare person that walks by without wanting to meet her. All of this is making her a bit famous. Our first day in George Town, we were strolling down the street and we heard a shout out to “Ocean!” as a local car passed us. Wow, we hadn’t even met anyone on shore yet! Does Ocean enjoy all this attention? She loves it! Meeting people is definitely her jam. She has even started to join in with a good old howl during the evening sundown conch blowing.
A few people have asked some logistical questions about our Ocean girl. So here is the low down on the top five questions:
How does Ocean get her daily exercise? Oh my gosh, this is rarely a problem. She swims, she hikes, she strolls around town. Long sailing days actually end up being necessary rest days for her. Time to catch up on some much-needed sleep!
Where does Ocean do her business when we are on a passage? She has a pee pad at the bow. She uses this for her nightly business and also when we are on a long passage.
How did we get Ocean to pee on the boat? Ocean is stubborn so this took a long time and lots of tricks. We started with collecting Ocean’s pee and pre-scenting a piece of carpet at the bow. No go. We then got a fake grass pee pad. No go. We even tried waiting her out but, after 41 hours, she peed but on one of our boat cushions. Geez. In Miami, we bought two pieces of sod and put them on her pee pad. Surely, she would go on actual grass? Nope. But she did figure out that we wanted her to pee and that she would get a treat if she “looked” like she was peeing. This started a round of “fake peeing” that we had to correct. Finally, we took the advice from another sailing couple to “super saturate” her. Every fifteen minutes we gave her a cup of water with tuna flakes in it and then took her to her pee pad. It took three hours but she finally did it. The celebration was huge! She now consistently goes on her pad, which has made all of us rest much easier.
What about the salt water? Yes, salt water is terrible for dogs. They can’t drink it of course but having it on their skin, fur and paws isn’t good either. It dries out their paw pads and makes their skin red and itchy. We always make sure we have lots of fresh water for Ocean to drink, whether we are on shore or on the boat. She also gets a fresh water rinse off EVERY TIME we return to the boat. This gets both the salt and sand out of her fur and off her paw pads.
How does Ocean stay safe when we are underway? She wears her harness or lifejacket and is tethered to the boat. She also stays only in the cockpit unless the conditions are calm or we are at anchor. Luckily, Ocean is a very chill sailor. No matter the conditions, she doesn’t get anxious. No, she just sleeps. 😊
In amongst all of this Ocean fun, we are planning and preparing to head further south. We are watching the weather carefully and have connected with some buddy boats who are also making the same journey. We hope to find the right weather window to head to Long Island early next week. After Long Island, we will continue through the southern Bahamas to Great Iguana. Then we have a 160 nautical mile (30+ hours) to the Dominican Republic. The journey continues!
A 24-Hour Wild West Wind Battle
We have been blessed with good weather so far in the Bahamas. Truly, it has only rained two days in the last six weeks and we have only had to deal with two wind storms. The first, we rode out at a private dock in Coral Harbour on the South-west tip of New Providence. The second occurred just this week and it was a doozy.
We decided to anchor at Black Point Settlement for the start of the wind storm because it offered us the most protection from the forecasted strong east winds and high waves. Also in the forecast was a quick (6 hour) clocking of the winds where they would swing from east to south-east then to the west before settling in from the north for a day. Finally, the wind clock was expected to go back to the prevailing east wind, albeit much lighter with the storm having dissipated. Our anchorage offered great protection for all of this…except that small window of west wind. We considered moving anchorages for the west wind but, unfortunately, the Exumas doesn’t have many anchorages where we would find the wind protection that we needed. And, really, why move? To protect ourselves from a little uncomfortable rolli-ness for a few hours? We, and 50 other boats that stayed, felt that we could deal with a small slice of discomfort.
Yeah, no. Mother Nature decided that we needed to learn a lesson.
That west wind did come but she didn’t make it a quick visit and she brought a pretty sizable sea state along with her. From late evening on Sunday until mid-afternoon on Monday, Wild Horses was rolled and pitched, slapped around and banged abruptly. To say it was uncomfortable is a massive understatement. The movement, I imagine, was akin to being inside an unbalanced washing machine. The winds were the worst over night, which made sleeping impossible. I tried to sleep in our cabin in the V berth (bow of the boat) but the abrupt slamming from side to side and then front to back and then kitty corner to kitty corner (I am not exaggerating) was just too much for me. I mostly camped out in the salon, close to the keel. This is the least rolly part of the boat but it still didn’t afford me enough comfort to sleep. Looking out into the darkness, I could see that every boat was being thrown around violently. Everyone in the anchorage was having a very sleepless night.
Well, except Mike and Ocean. Ocean didn’t wake up at all and Mike woke up just to do a deck check every few hours (checking that our anchor was still well set and that the boat and dinghy were properly handling the motion). Yeesh! My crew are definitely the saltiest of salty sailors!
Morning light didn’t bring much relief. The westerly battering had switched to a northwesterly battering and we could see the angry sea state better but that was all. We continued to endure the washing machine until early evening, when the wind started to abate.
Then we heard the stories. Steve from Lola had spent a sleepless night managing his anchor snubber (shock absorber for the anchor chain) which unexpectedly broke and needed a quick repair. Except his second snubber then broke. And his steel bow roller for his anchor bent from the force of the battering. Yeesh. Another boat that had anchored in shallower water had their keel slam violently into the sea bed. There was no apparent damage but the experience was unsettling. The good news was that not a single boat dragged and no one reported injuries beyond scrapes and bruises. Whew!
The following day was February 14th. The winds were back to the east and had dropped to a favourable 15 knots. The sea state had calmed considerably and the sun was shining. Ah, the joy. Our perfect Bahamian weather had returned and we were going to make the best of it with an eight hour sail to Georgetown. The trauma of the last 24 hours was quickly forgotten as we made our way through Dotham Cut at the north end of Great Guana Cay and put out our sails. The open ocean with following seas and a gorgeous northeast wind pushing us along seemed like a great Valentines Day gift.
We arrived in Georgetown just before dark and anchored off Stocking Island. This busy harbour is a real eye opener after the quaint little anchorages and towns of the northern and central Exumas. To our west lies the town of Georgetown. It has lots of great shopping including easy access to groceries, restaurants, and liquor stores 😊. To our east, south and north, well, there are about a gazillion anchored boats. The Georgetown anchorages look and feel like a busy little metropolis. Dinghys zoom between boats, the beaches are a collection of get-togethers, there is chatter, music and lights on many of the boats. The vibe here is welcoming, alive, active and social! This is fun! As much as we like our quiet anchorages and sweet little towns, having a lively home base for a while isn’t a bad thing.
We will be in Georgetown for the next week exploring, provisioning and resting up for the next leg of our journey. We will soon be headed to the southern Bahamas and then onto the Dominican Republic.
Waiting Out Another Wind Storm
We started last weekend exactly how weekends should start…with a great boater’s get-together! The annual 5F “Cruisers Dinner” at Farmer’s Cay was put on by the Farmer’s Cay Yacht Club (FCYC) and was a fun event with free food and drinks. Yes, you read that correctly! Instead of charging a fee, donations were collected for the Farmer’s Cay All Age School. Wonderful! Certainly, that donation box got a lot of action, which made the event even more special.
The dinner was a very casual affair with grilled chicken, beans and rice and, of course, Bahamian mac & cheese. So much goodness on our plates! There was some room inside FCYC for people to sit and dine but most people hung out outside, sitting on rocks or along the sea wall to eat. And accompanying the delicious food? Lots of great conversation! Both Lola (Steve) and Sensai (Ted and Evelyn) were there but we also got to catch up with On Y Va (Elise and Ghislaine), a boat from our home dock at Trident Yacht Club in Kingston. On Y Va had started their adventures in the Bahamas six years ago, returning home every summer but enjoying their winters in the warm Bahamian waters. We also got to chat a lot with new friends we had met along the ICW and a few others that we met in the Bahamas. Conversation is very easy with our fellow boaters – we have so much in common, so much to discuss and everyone always has big smiles. Kindred spirits for sure!
Truly though, the highlight of the 5F festival was the sailing. There were two days of dinghy races held on Friday and Saturday, with many expert local racers from all over the Bahamas in attendance. Their boats are traditional Bahamian wooden boats, about 5 metres in length, powered by a single large sail; however, the most interesting bit is how the race starts. We are used to boat races starting with boats already under sail, jockeying for position near the start line until the start gun is sounded. Not here! These boats start out at anchor. When the start gun goes, the crew weighs anchor and the sail goes up. This adds so much more excitement to the race. What a treat to get to watch it all unfold!
With the Regatta finishing up on Saturday, many of our fellow boaters (there were close to 200 attending the festival) began to leave Farmer’s Cay. We were all well-aware of a strong winter wind storm that was forecasted to hit the Exumas in the coming week so getting to a protected anchorage was top of mind for everyone. Many boaters used the good weather on the weekend to relocate, either further south towards George Town or northward to one of the many protected anchorages in the Exumas. For us, we were delighted to have a perfect wind on Sunday to sail to Black Point Settlement, about 2 hours north of Farmer’s Cay. It was a beautiful one tack sail with a 21-knot wind pushing us along. As the anchorage came into sight, our buddy boat “Lola” hailed us on the VHF saying “Here we are, along with 100 of our friends”. Yup! It was a busy anchorage! Many of us from Farmer’s Cay had the same idea, including Sensai and On Y Va. Right away we knew that riding out this wind storm was going to be fun 😊.
Black Point Settlement is a lovely little village. We had skipped this anchorage on our way south but loved that we now had the opportunity to check it out. One of the things we have come to enjoy about the Exumas is that each town has their own character and you only come to appreciate that uniqueness when you stroll around, meeting the friendly locals and checking out the buildings and terrain. Black Point Settlement has lots of children around, very curious and excited about our pup Ocean. It was great fun to chat with them about their island, school and, of course, Ocean! We also got to meet a few ladies weaving baskets outside their home. Both are retired teachers and now they enjoy spending time on their craft, while chatting with passersby and keeping a pulse on the goings-on in their town. There is so much beauty to be discovered on these islands, beginning with the incredible waters, terrain and food but mostly with the residents, young and old, who share it all with us.
The strong winds are forecasted to hold through the weekend, so we will be staying put. Black Point Settlement is the perfect protected anchorage for the weather, while also giving us easy access to groceries and long walks. Oh, and they just happen to be having a Superbowl party at the local yacht club on Sunday and, well, we can’t miss that! 😉
We now know first hand why people love to come to the Bahamas. It is a quiet paradise for those that like to linger in tranquility and is jammed-pack full of excitement for the more adventurous. In terms of exploring, Mike, Ocean and I fall into the second camp. We are outside from the crow of the first rooster until the last conch shell has been blown (i.e. sun up to sunset 😊) and we have had more “holy toledo” moments than I ever thought was possible. Active or not, most of us boaters are out here day after day saying “this can’t be real”. I mean, the water alone must have over 40 shades of blue and green, some of these colours I have only ever seen in a Crayola premium pack of crayons.
Our time at Staniel’s Cay was no different. We were anchored just off Big Major Cay, right in front of Pig Beach, for five days but it went by so quickly. They were five awesome snorkel-beach-play-explore amazing days! Being just off Pig Beach, our first order of business was to check out the swimming pigs of course! We could see from our boat that lots of people were walking on Pig Beach, getting up close with the dozens of pigs but we had heard that the pigs are very food-aggressive so we decided to do our exploration from the safety of our dinghy. Plus, we wanted to bring Ocean along and, well, she is also food-strong. The last thing we wanted was for Ocean to fight one of the pigs over a piece of carrot! Luckily, we still got a close-up of the pigs since they have no problem swimming out for their food. They are certainly not the pot-bellied pigs I was expecting. No, these pigs were of the “hog” size. And, man, they were great swimmers!
The next day we got to meet a few of Steve’s friends, Ian and Isobel, who are long-time boaters. They gave us some great tips on navigating our new boating world and even stopped by one night with an extra Bahamian lobster for us that Ian had speared that afternoon. Delicious!
Ian is also an avid kite-surfer and we got a chance to watch him and a few of his friends kite-surfing off a sand bar, just a little west of Big Major Cay. Oh, and for anyone thinking that this boating lifestyle is just for the younger set, all of the kite-surfers were over 60. Ian, himself, is 69 and he spent a good 3 hours surfing and flying into the waves.
For us, the best experience of Staniel’s Cay was had on Monday. Thunderball Grotto. Wow. We got to the famous James Bond underwater cave at slack low tide. What is slack tide? During a rising or falling tide, you have current flow. Slack tide is when the current stalls and the half hour on other side of slack tide is a very weak current. This was important because the current around the Grotto can be extremely strong, making swimming and snorkeling very challenging. Exploring the Grotto during a rising or falling tide would be more about survival than enjoyment. Yikes! Oh, but our timing around the tides was perfect and we were treated to a beautiful caving experience. The Grotto was mesmerizing and the snorkeling was incredible. It was like being inside an aquarium, with the many fish swimming just millimetres from our fingers and toes. And the coral, stunning shades of pink, grey and black all around us.
In amongst all of this exploring, we spent a lot of time walking along the beaches and through the small village of Staniel’s Cay. One favourite haunt was the “Liquormat” where Mike, Steve and I would share a cold beer after a big day of exploring. What is a Liquormat? Well, it is a half liquor-store and half laundromat. Brilliant! We certainly gave one half of the establishment a good portion of our business. 😉
On Tuesday morning we decided to take advantage of the perfect winds and sail our way down to Farmers Cay, about 3 hours further south in the Exumas. This weekend is the 5F Regatta and Festival. This is a big draw for boaters in the Bahamas so we wanted to get anchored there early. Plus, it gave us some time to explore the town and the sights before they got too crowded. In case you were wondering, the 5F is short for “First Friday in February at Farmers Cay Festival”.
Our big venture yesterday was the large cave at Oven Rock. It started with beaching the dinghy, then a 15 minute hike through the low, bushy terrain and up a small hill. The path was rugged but defined enough for us to find our way. Once at the top, well, that was the cherry on the top of a lovely hike. A slight opening in the rockface revealed an incredible cave, complete with a pool of water, bats and lots of stalagmites and stalactites (icicle-shaped deposits from floor to ceiling and ceiling to floor). It was an incredible experience to wander the cave. Mike even jumped in the pool for a swim!
The town of Farmers Cay is a sweet little village with several craft shops and a few people selling seafood but not much else. The residents of Farmer’s Cay are a welcoming bunch and the store owners were quite chatty about the town and their wares. We are very much looking forward to joining them for the 5F festivities, starting with a “Cruisers Dinner” tonight!
Exploring the Central Exumas
This past week we have continued our trip south through the Exumas, enjoying the beautiful beaches, sunsets, sunrises and sailing of this region.
Our first stop after Highbourne Cay was Norman’s Cay. This area gained notoriety in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s as the home base for a cocaine smuggling operation. Yeesh! It is now a very quiet island and the only remnants of its shady past is a small airplane partially submerged in one of the anchorages. Once we set our anchor, our first point of business was to get to snorkel the airplane. It was quite the sight to see as most of the plane is still intact.
It was a fun to snorkel from the dinghy and this was another “first” for Ocean. She had never seen us in our snorkel fins and masks and she had never watched us swim underwater from the dinghy. For anyone that knows Ocean, you know she likes to “talk”. Well, she had lots to say about this new experience, much to the amusement of the occupants of a tour boat visiting the area.
After our snorkel trip, Steve from “Lola” (our buddy boat since Bimini) suggested that we dinghy over to Wax Cay. This was a real treat. Wax Cay is a private island, owned by a billionaire in Nassau. It is set up like a resort with a Vietnamese type style. Inside the harbour were several docks and a large 100-year-old 80 foot steel Chesapeake crab boat. Lucky for us, the owner was aboard and very chatty. Shortly thereafter, the General Manager of the island came by on his golf cart. He was also chatty and loved that we were so interested in the island. Could we beach our dinghies and have a look around? Sure!
It was incredible. There were several out buildings – a dining hall, games building, and many, many cottages. Each building housed intricate carvings and fascinating artwork. The floors were marble, as were the beautifully appointed bathrooms and outdoor showers. Everything had a Vietnamese feel to it and we later learned from the General Manager that the cottages were actually shipped in from Vietnam. The most stunning part is that we learned that the owner maintains the resort to the tune of about $500,000 USD yet rarely visits. He never rents the cottages either. He just keeps them for family and friends. Hmmm, I might need to closely examine my family tree…
The GM, Mike, was an interesting character himself. He had an ever-present glass of gin on hand (a self-described profession drinker 😉) and told us great stories about the property and the plane wreck that we had just snorkeled. He was on the plane just 3 days after it went down. It was in great condition but completely empty and definitely buried in the sand. The plane didn’t crash, actually, it was purposefully landed at low tide after running out of fuel. The pilot and drug runners then removed all the illicit cargo. Like I said, great stories!
After a few more days of exploring and relaxing at Norman’s Cay, we decided to head a little further south to Shroud Cay, which is part of the Exumas Land and Sea Park. The Park is 176 miles long and encompasses over 15 cays, starting with Wax Cay (which we explored via dinghy previously) and going all the way to Conch Cut. The Park was created to preserve the natural beauty and environment of the Bahamas. There are no commercial developments within the Park and the only inhabited islands are privately owned. Fishing and hunting of any kind is prohibited. The result of this care is a pristine and beautiful aquatic playground. Inspiring.
From the first moment entering the anchorage at Shroud, we were mesmerized by the tranquility. All around us were unpopulated white sand beaches, mangroves, and about a million shades of blue Bahamian water. First on our list was to do the famous “dinghy drift.” Throughout Shroud Cay are numerous creeks that wind their way through the mangroves, with the main one being perfectly wide enough to explore by dinghy. Getting there at a half-rising tide, you can actual just put your dinghy in neutral and “drift” through the mangroves, checking out their intricate root system and spying on fish, nurse sharks and sea turtles. The tides didn’t quite work out for Wild Horses and Lola – we got to the dinghy drift at a half-falling tide. Oops! We didn’t mind though. Walking the dinghies through the soft mangrove mud was an experience in itself.
We also walked up the ridge of Shroud and found the fresh water well at the top. And, yes, you guessed it – the water was delicious!
The remoteness and beauty of Shroud was addictive but strong winds are forecasted for the Exumas this weekend so we have moved quite a bit further south to Staniel’s Cay. This Cay is a bustling metropolis compared to the quiet Cays we have been visiting over the last ten days. Truly, it is still a small village but we now have access to small grocery stores, restaurants, shops and fuel. More importantly for us, it is home to the famous swimming pigs and to Thunderball grotto (of James Bond fame), both of which we plan to visit over the next few days. Oh, and we are now officially out of the Land and Sea Park so can start fishing and looking for those lobsters again!
Oh Bahamas, the adventures you take us on 😊. After our one night anchored off Chub Cay, we set off with our boat buddy “Lola” to head towards New Providence Island. Both Lola and ourselves wanted to avoid the bustling city of Nassau and were looking for ample protection for the winter wind storm that was forecasted to hit the entirety of the Bahamas late Friday and through the weekend. Our solution for both issues came in the form of a private dock in Coral Harbour that Steve (Lola) had heard about by chance while we were in Bimini.
In the southwest of New Providence Island, Coral Harbour is a quiet, low-key and mostly residential area. Perfect. And the private dock that we had heard about was nestled within a very wind and sea-state protected canal system. Extra perfect.
The entrance to the canal system is alongside the Royal Bahamian Defence Force Base. It was incredible to see the military ships docked and ready as we scooted along towards our dock. Arriving at our destination, it was clearly a small dock wall, with enough room for just three boats. But the canal is wide so this easily grew to nine boats, with rafting up employed. The private dock is owned by the Wardles, a lovely couple who make their dock accessible to sailors needing a long-term home base or a short stay through poor weather. They do not advertise their dock space, preferring to have word-of-mouth spread by friends of friends. Their focus is on having community-minded sailors sharing their dock rather than making a bunch of money from whomever. To this end, they charge very little for dockage but really amp up the social scene.
Carolyn and Nick, both in their eighties, greeted us warmly and expertly assisted with getting us rafted up to Karuna, a 49-foot Beneteau, and then with getting Lola rafted up to us. Immediately, Carolyn put her whole attention on ensuring that our dock lines were secured for the “big winter blow” and giving us an overview of the dock amenities and what the town had to offer. We were very much impressed. This was a lady with moxie and reminded us of our own moms back home 😊.
What came next can only be described as “summer camp-esque”. Yes. Summer camp. Carolyn and Nick made sure that all their dock-ees were properly entertained and socialized. Mornings were a walk with Carolyn and her pup “Jager” around the peninsula, with lots of chatter about local birds, fauna and flora. It was a nature walk with a local who loved being a local. Interestingly, Carolyn and her husband Nick hail from Great Britain but have lived in the Bahamas for a good portion of their lives. Their love and knowledge of the islands is very strong and addictive.
Afternoons were croquet tournaments followed by “happy hour.” Every single sailor there participated actively and we were all richer for it. We met really interesting people and made some amazing friends in those four days of waiting out the “big winter blow”. Note to our Canadian families and friends – it got as cold as 15 degrees Celsius. We totally remember that this is not “Canada cold” but, in the Bahamas, it is frigid. Jeans, mittens and blankets were worn while we all gathered in the gazebo for happy hour.
As the weekend and the wind began to die down, Wild Horses and Lola started to make plans for leaving New Providence Island. We knew we would continue our journey with Lola and we wanted our next destination to be Highbourne Cay in the Exumas. The two wonderful surprises for us were that our newfound friends Peter and Laura on Karuna would be joining us and that Sensai, our wonderful buddy boat from Trident Yacht Club, would still be at Highbourne Cay when we arrived. Yes!
Our journey to the Exumas (i.e. Highbourne Cay) was under 0 knot winds. Yeesh! No sailing but we were able to use the seven hour journey to run our Rainman water maker to fill up our water tanks and to also do a load of laundry. There isn’t a lot of wasted time in this lifestyle!
Highbourne Cay has been a joy. Not only did we get a chance to catch up with Ted and Evelyn but we also took the dinghy to Allan’s Cay to check out the very tame iguanas that inhabit the islands of the Cay. They are a very unique and endangered breed of iguana that goes by the genus “iguana iguana”. Nice. At Allan’s Cay, the guys also took a shot at snorkeling the coral reefs to try to find some lobsters. It was a good try but, yeah, more pasta for dinner that night!
Tomorrow we will weigh anchor once again. We have a very short two-hour sail to Norman’s Cay and then onto Shroud Cay. Both of these locales offer more snorkelling options as well as ventures among the mangroves for turtle and sting ray sightings. Our time in the Bahamas continues to be bliss!
Victoria is a hiker, dog-lover, blog writer and planner extraordinaire. Oh, yeah and she is kind of fond of living on a boat.