May 30, 2010
Heading south again from Marsh Harbor we sailed about 25 miles to Little Harbor, the last stop in the protected Sea of Abaco before the 50 mile jump across the 12000 foot deep Northeast Providence Channel to the island of Eleuthera. We visited Eleuthera about 13 years ago, just after we got married and stayed in a resort for the whole week without leaving the compound, or seeing any of the island proper, so this time we were going to explore and planned to spend about 3 weeks working our way from north to south.
We woke before dawn and were underway as the sun rose over SV Moxie, our buddy boat for the crossing. Unfortunately there was not enough wind to sail, so we had to motor all the way, about 11 hours, but the early morning swells died down by noon, so it was a very calm and pleasant crossing, the only excitement being another Barracuda on the line that we had to throw back. We rounded Little Egg Island and headed for Spanish Wells a small (alcohol-free!) town on a little island with a big fishing fleet and grabbed a mooring ball for a few nights. The first night was very tough going, our worst experience to date with insects, as due to the absence of any breeze, the no seeums (teeny biting gnats) appeared in vast clouds at sunset and they were FEROCIOUS. Worse still, they are so small that they can squeeze through the screens on the port holes and they savaged us mercilessly. It got so bad that we had to close all the hatches and portholes with hundreds of them still inside and we sweated and baked in a tropical boat oven and were eaten alive all night long. The next morning the breeze picked up, thank god, and it blew 20 – 25 knots for three days, so no noseeums but too much wind to move, so we explored the town and hung out with Pete and Dorothy aboard Moxie and had a great time, all of us covered in red itchy bites.
From there we headed to an anchorage just north of current cut for a couple of nights, before heading through the narrow gap between 2 islands with very strong currents (hence the name) to the sheltered waters to the west of Eleuthera. First stop an anchorage at Glass Window where the Atlantic has broken through the narrow island and you have to use a bridge to cross from the north to south. We went ashore for a walk and took some great photos of Harmony at anchor. Next stop, Hatchet Bay for a few nights, where there is a very well protected natural harbor with a teeny narrow entrance between 2 sheer rock faces. The little village is pretty poor but interesting and we met up with moxie again for more fun. From there we sailed to Governors Harbor for a few nights, the original capital of the Bahamas, first settled in the 1600s, with some lovely old buildings and a library where I traded in some of our books for a fresh supply. We celebrated Dickie’s birthday there with a meal in a local restaurant, did much needed laundry, and attended the friday night fish fry on the beach which was great. South from there to South Palmetto Point, a teeny settlement which was having its homecoming celebration all weekend long, with loud music and on the beach and more bahamian food specialities including Conch. Conch pronounced conk is a large sea snail in a beautiful shell that you can pick up from the sea floor; conch salad is chopped up raw conch with tomatoes, celery and onions and lime and orange juice and chili. I loved the salad bit, but the conch itself I found to be a bit, well, challenging! it is pretty tough and chewy, but dickie liked it. I prefer it in its cooked chowder form or as fritters which are also very common local specialities. We left there after 2 days as even though we were anchored way off the beach the music played till 3 am and we needed a rest! From there we sailed to Rock Sound, and were reunited with Moxie at the southern end of Eleuthera for a few days, for more stocking up before the trip across the exuma sound to the Exumas, a long string of teeny tropical islands that stretch from north to south and where there is a protected sea park.
We sailed across the Exuma Sound with Moxie leading the way and arrived at the Exuma Land and Sea Park and grabbed a mooring in one of the most mind-bogglingly beautiful places I have ever seen. I am hoping to post this update to the blog here, using the rather weak satellite internet, and will post about the exumas when we get further south to Staniel Cay, which is famous for the thunderball grotto that was in the james bond movie of the same name and is a great snorkelling spot. The further south we go, the more fortunate we feel to have reached these stunning places. Harmony has been great, and even after 10 months aboard the thought of turning north to start the trip back is hard to fathom.
May 05, 2010
We are back in Marsh Harbor for a third visit during a month of cruising the sea of Abaco and some of its lovely islands. We have visited Great Guana Cay, Matthew Lowe Cay, Elbow Cay, Lubbers Quarters, Tilloo Cay, Sandy Cay and Lynard Cay, all with palm fringed white/pink sandy beaches, and bordered by coral reefs in beautiful turquiose water: I am still amazed by the colour of the water.
Marsh Harbor is the metropolis of the Abacos (Bahamas’ northern group of islands) and is about the size of Falmouth! There is a supermarket and shops and propane and marinas for fuel and water, and a huge and protected harbor to anchor in so it is a great spot to come to to stock up before we head further south to the Exumas (Bahamas’ central group of islands) by way of Eleuthera, about 60 miles south of here. We celebrated my birthday here at the beginning of april over the easter holidays and went snorkelling and scuba diving on Mermaid reef which was beautiful.
From Marsh Harbor we sailed to Great Guana Cay and anchored in Fishers Bay for a few days. We walked around the small settlement and visited a famous local restaurant called Nippers, which sits on a bluff looking east over the Atlantic Ocean and the beach which has a coral reef protecting it. After 5 nights our inverter (which keeps our batteries charged) started making bad noises: it turns out it needed a new fan so we had to return to Marsh Harbor where the only marine electronics guy in the Abacos is based. Also four days of strong winds were forecast so we decided to stay at the Marsh Harbor marina, what a treat, showers and shore power! Our stay coincided with BBQ night at the marina and we met some fun people there: 2 new yorkers aboard Weeshaboo, and a texan couple who invited us aboard their beautiful boat Wild Thing for dinner the next night: we left with a severe case of boat envy! We were dreading a hefty bill for the inverter fix, but by some miracle the electronics chap had the part in stock (we feared having to wait for a week while it was flown in from US) and sold it to us for $50 and Dickie installed it which was very cool.
Next we anchored off Matthew Lowes Cay for 5 nights and swam and snorkelled and fished (caught 3 yellow snappers). It was fab and what cruising the bahamas is all about. While there I hoisted Dickie up the mast to untangle the furling gear that lets the foresail out, which was a bit scary for me anyway, he didn’t seem too bothered. From there we headed over to Elbow Cay and anchored outside Hopetown Harbor. Hopetown, first settled in the 1780s, is a lovely village which has grown up around a well protected harbor about the size of eel pond in woods hole; it reminded us of martha’s vineyard too with lots of colorful little cottages and ferries coming and going. It is famous for its red and white striped lighthouse built by the british lighthouse service in the 1800s, and we climbed to the top for a great view of the Abacos, and we could see Harmony in the harbor….. I love lighthouses. It also has a beauitiful pink sandy beach on the ocean side with excellent diving and snorkelling on the reef just off shore. After a couple of nights at anchor we took a mooring in the harbor for 4 nights as another cold front was forecast to come through.
We headed south from there to Lubbers Quarters for the full moon party at Cracker P’s another beach front restaurant, and then on from there the next day to snorkel at sandy cay which is a protected sea park where Dickie saw tons of sea rays and other fish. Next stop Lynard Cay for a few nights of peace and quiet before we planned to jump south to Eleuthera. However the propane tank was empty again so we figured we’d better go back to Marsh Harbor for a final provisioning stop. We had a gorgeous 4 hour sail north with the wind behind us all the way, and were feeling very lucky being in such amazing surroundings, when the fishing rod started to spin and we had caught a fish: it was a big barracuda, about 30 inches long with giant teeth but no good for eating unfortunately, so we put it back.
Now back in Marsh Harbor we have just got back from the supermarket, and the propane tank for cooking is filled (it seems to last about a month) , we will weigh anchor and pull into the marina to fill up with water. We have done so little motoring that we dont need diesel, just some gas for the dinghy, and we will sail south later today to little harbor, last stop in the abacos. Exumas here we come!
March 30, 2010
We spent 3 windy nights on the dock at the old bahama bay marina. We borrowed bikes and cycled into the little settlement of West End and bought some bread and meat (it turned out to be lamb when defrosted), 3 just-caught yellow tailed snappers (which were delicious on the BBQ) and a bottle of local bahamian rum. We also did some snorkelling which was amazing: clear turquoise blue waters and fish of all shape, size and color, it was like swimming in a tropical fish tank.
We left there once the wind died down a bit, after fueling up and doing laundry, and traversed a very shallow channel onto the little bahama bank and headed for our first anchorage, mangrove cay (pronounced key), a teeny island 20 miles east. We had a very peaceful night with just one other boat at anchor and nothing on the horizon but wide open sea and sky. The next day we had planned to head for Great Sale Cay and anchor there for a few days and explore the deserted island and its beaches, but the wind was in the wrong direction, dead ahead of us, so we decided instead to sail north-east to Grand Cay, the northernmost cay of the bahamas which has a very sheltered harbor with a skinny channel into it. We anchored just off the colorful little village and settled in for the night, which turned quite windy so we were up a lot checking we weren’t dragging. The next day was windy too so we stayed put and eventually went ashore the day after for a walk around:
The village is small and pretty poor, but the locals are very friendly. There is no street as such, only a little concrete path that golf carts ride on around the island, we only saw a couple of cars, but most people have some kind of boat for fishing. There are 2 churches, a school and a government health clinic with a nurse on site, and a dentist that visits once a month; they were hit badly by a hurricane a few years ago and a lot of the houses and shacks are in a state of disrepair. There are a couple of businesses that cater to fishing tourists mostly from the US, and the marina called Rosie’s Place had a little restaurant where we ate that night, conch fritters and fried fish which was good. The store was very sparse with only basic canned goods, we had more cans stashed away aboard Harmony, but they had tomatoes so we bought some.
We moved on at high tide in the late afternoon after 3 nights at anchor, and motored south about 10 miles to Great Sale Cay where we anchored for the night just off the western shore. The next day we headed east again to Crab Cay, the wind was perfect and it was one of the nicest sails we’ve had, calm and peaceful, no motor noise, just waves lapping against the hull, cool breezes and amazing vistas; we thought it couldn’t get much better but then we heard the whirling of the fishing rod reel and realized we had caught a fish! Dickie reeled in a beautiful big spanish mackerel (we think!) which we grilled on the BBQ for dinner that night, stuffed with rum soaked limes from our sunset cocktails; the left overs became a sort of fish chowder and kept us deliciously fed for 2 more days. Finally the curse of the new fishing rod bought 2 years ago has been broken! We spent another night at Crab Cay with very strong winds from the west which made for a rocky night in the v-berth. The next morning, after a swim, we weighed anchor and sailed to manjack cay to anchor in a wide cove between 2 islands over crystal clear water. We caught another spanish mackerel en route, even bigger than the last, but having only just finished the last one we had had enough mackerel and threw it back. We had planned to stay there for a few days but the weather reports indicated a strong front would be reaching us the next night so we headed to Black Sound in Green Turtle Cay where there are moorings in a very sheltered harbor and tied up for a few days.
A big storm did come through with wind gusting in the 40s, lightening and torrential rain, but we were well-protected and secure in Black Sound. We heard a lot of radio traffic that evening from boats that weren’t so lucky, dragging around the harbor just north of us which is no fun at all, as we know from experience. We went ashore and walked around the town of New Plymouth, settled by British loyalists who fled the US during the American Revolution, it has a very interesting history. It is a colorful town with a few stores and restaurants and a busy waterfront with a ferry service to the main island. We bought a few groceries, some vegetables and milk and eggs and couldn’t believe it came to $53, everything has to be brought here by boat from the mainland so it pretty pricey. We walked the length of the island and back, about four miles, and had sore feet by the end of it, being cooped up on the boat for a few days we are out of practice. On our last night in Green Turtle Cay we visited Pineapples for happy hour, a little bar on the water with wifi and met some other cruisers, one from sandwich MA on cape cod, and caught up on some email. We had planned to dawdle south, island hoping over the next few days, but our propane tank for cooking has run out and the only place to fill it is Marsh Harbor, the biggest town on the Abacos, about 20 miles south, so we will go there and hang out for a few days over easter. Happy Easter everyone!
March 17, 2010
We made it to the bahamas. It is a St Patricks Day Miracle!
After waiting a week at anchor in west palm beach for the right weather, Harmony stuffed to the gills with ships stores, we finally got it (or mostly anyway). We woke at 3.30 am in Lake Worth, weighed anchor and left the inlet at just before 5am. Incoming was a huge cruise ship called Bahamas Celebration which we took as a good sign. The seas were calm, unlike our aborted attempt a week before when huge rollers greeted us at the inlet, so we headed south-east looking forward to sunrise at 7.30am. There were swells but from behind us so they weren’t too bad and by the time we reached the gulf stream about 15 miles out they had started to drop and the conditions improved all morning. We saw a lot of portuguese man-of-war jellyfish floating by, translucent blue bubbles on the surface with long poisonous tentacles hanging below, and small flying fish which flitted over the ocean surface so fast that they were impossible to capture by camera.
We didn’t see another boaton the horizonall day until the last hour or so when the tip of grand bahamas island was in sight and we were engulfed by a sudden squall, with lots of rain and gusty winds. Having had such a pleasant gulf stream crossing we didn’t care, and with a sheltered harbor ahead Harmony slogged through the rough waters with ease and we tied up to the dock at the Old Bahama Bay Marina, West End, drenched but happy at about 4pm. Even in bad weather the water is an incredible turquoise blue and we are looking forward to spending a lot of time in it.
We had to go through customs and immigration before we could do anything else, and pay a $300 fee for a cruising and fishing permit; we then replaced the yellow quarantine flag we were required to fly until clearing customs with the bahamas flag, in addition we must fly the US flag while in foreign waters, and today in honor of st patricks day the irish flag is also aloft. Next stop glorious hot showers and then we hotfooted to the restaurant where we had a few bahamian beers and dinner: conch chowder and mahi mahi and red snapped, all delicious.
It is still very windy so we will stay here at least 2 nights and then head east again across the little bahama bank to start exploring the abaco islands, we will spend a month or so working our way slowly south, and have some quality island time mon!
March 07, 2010
When we returned to stuart in mid january we expected to spend a balmy week to 10 days reacclimatizing to the warmer weather and getting stocked up before crossing to the bahamas. What we found was altogether different: while we were away stuart experienced 10 days of below freezing overnight lows (a record for the area) and as a result there were dead fish EVERYWHERE, big and small and exotic, floating around the docks and against harmony’s hull in the mooring field. I called the marina as I thought there might have been a chemical spill, but they assured me it was the cold and the fish just couldn’t cope. In addition hundreds of manatees and turtles had succumbed, although thankfully they were not bobbing around the boat too, poor things.
We had many cold nights and near freezing mornings on the boat, and were surprised to see our breaths forming clouds above us in the v-berth and frost on the inside of the portholes; thank goodness for the hot water bottle and blankets and each other to cuddle up to. The weather has been the big story ever since. When it wasn’t just downright cold, it was also very windy (20 to 35+ knot winds were common) with a series of low pressure fronts passing over stuart every few days. In between we might get a couple of calm days with temps in the 60s but with another big blow pending the thought of leaving the secure mooring was not an appealing one. So we stayed, and stayed and stayed some more. To pass the time we got rather obsessed and competitive over sudoku and I read more books (free from the book swap) than I have in the last few years while Dickie played a lot of guitar and wrote some songs too. That is in addition to all the maintenance we did of course.
During the latest storm I took some photos and a video after the worst of it has passed through, which gives you an idea of what we are dealing with: for about half an hour it blew to 50mph and we couldn’t see the land which is only a few hundred feet away, the front came out of nowhere and we had just got back from a huge food shopping trip and unloaded the dinghy into the boat only minutes before the sky went dark and it all went crazy.
When we could get off the boat, we did some hiking up and down the beach to try and thaw out. We warmed up sufficiently once (in 6 florida weeks!) to go for a swim; 2 days later we heard that a kite surfer has been attacked by sharks and died right there where we had been frolicking in the surf, so that rather put us off braving the waters again. Another day we found the Savannahs State Park and walked for about an hour along the scrubby paths and marshland with dickie doing his best crocodile hunter impressions (RIP) only to come across a sign that said “due to the extreme weather conditions alligators are congregating in this area of the park and they become aggressive when approached, so this area is closed to the public for your own safety” !! I rather wish they had mentioned that BEFORE we reached “this area of the park” so I grabbed and big stick and we made a hasty retreat. I tell you it’s a jungle out there.
The next posting I hope will be made from the bahamas (fingers crossed). Harmony is stuffed to the gills: we have food and beer stashed away in every cubby hole, new charts and house batteries, full fuel tanks, empty pooh tanks, and dickie has just finished mending the leaky freshwater tank so we should be all set. the weather looks good for the next few days, and we hope to make the crossing to west end on the grand bahama island some day soon, it is about 55 miles due east from lake worth, where we are heading tomorrow so who knows.
December 20, 2009
By mid december we had decided to head for key west for christmas, heading west across the FLorida peninsula via the okeechobee waterway to Ft Myers and then south to the keys. However we got news that Dickie’s dad wasn’t well, so we decided to head back to Ireland and the UK for christmas and the new year. We had a great time, and caught up with family and friends in spite of the bad weather: there was a lot of snow which caused chaos across both countries, but we still managed to get in some good walks, bray head, the seafront, lovely isle of man hills and hampshire fields in the snow. We also enjoyed the novelty of living on land for a few weeks after 5 months aboard harmony eg. square beds (not v-shaped), running water, unlimited power, flushing toilets, but not having cell phones and regular internet access was a bit of a shock, like being back in the 90s!
We stayed a month and it was very hard to leave.
November 25, 2009
it is hard to cast my mind back so far but I’ll have a go:
thanksgiving day morning 2009 (november 25th I think) we set off after 2 nights on the hook due to wind and torrential rain in fort pierce. More bad weather was forecast, and it didn’t seem right not having a big turkey-day feast somewhere, for my first official thanksgiving as an american, so we sailed 6 miles up the saint lucie river from the ICW and headed for the stuart mooring field that we had read about in the cruising blogs. Boat hook in hand, dangling perilously over the bow as dickie skillfully maneouvered Harmony, I snagged the first free mooring ball we came across and we tied up for a 2 or 3 days……..
It is a great spot, cheap at $240/month, relatively sheltered and with great facilities, hot showers, laundry, even a captain’s lounge with comfy sofa and giant tv, book swap, several great bridges, palm trees, sunset serenades:
bikes to borrow for the 6 mile ride to the fab beach on the atlantic ocean etc.
Yes Stuart FL is hard to beat, and as it turns out it is also hard to leave, 2 or 3 days turned into 3 months and counting! but we are about to leave for the bahamas any day now…..
November 20, 2009
We spent 3 days on a mooring in Fernandina Beach. After sleeping most of the first day and through the night we hauled the dinghy, Little Harmony, off the deck and put her in the water so we could go ashore and stretch our legs and shower, always a treat. The second morning we awoke to thick fog which didn’t clear till 9am, but the third morning we woke at 4 am to clear skies and headed back out to sea for another overnighter to Port Canaveral about 140 miles south.
Once the sun came up we took turns trying to get some sleep during the day in advance of the long night ahead, but the large swells coming from the east made snoozing in the v-berth rather like trying to sleep on a galloping horse, still we rested. Overnight we saw amazing phosphorescence in the waters around the boat, streaking from side to side, and exploding on the surface like green fireworks, only then realizing it was caused by dolphins swimming alongside. There was no fog early the next morning and very little traffic so it was thanfully an uneventful night, and the sun came up with only a 20 miles to go till we reached our destination. Large cruise ships returning to port, lit up like christmas trees showed us the way to the port canaveral canal, and we entered the lock at about 8.30 am alongside a manatee, a true sign we have made it to florida, along with the palm trees everywhere. We checked into the harbortown marina for 2 nights after fueling up, as they had a great deal on, 0.60cents a foot per night, almost as cheap as a mooring, but with the added benefit of shore power so we could use the airconditioning, and we needed it as it was HOT.
November 16, 2009
We left the marina as planned! the heater part arrived and we set off at 10.30 am. Out to sea or rather the great atlantic ocean:
It is hard to believe how calm it was. It didn’t stay quite that calm later, and we spotted a flare and called into the coast guard.
AT sunset a pod of dolpins surrounded harmony, loads of them, and I got a few good photos while dickie was snoozing below. After midnight we crossed a shipping lane and spotted lots of traffiic, lights blinking in the darkness, and then the fog appeared and it was all eyes on deck, thank goodness for the radar. Made it into fernandina beach by 10 am, fueled up and grabbed a mooring ball and crashed…. Florida at last. 893 miles from Norfolk VA, and about 1500 miles from cape cod; key west about 350 miles. we have come a long way.
November 08, 2009
On and on south we go. I tried to catch the dolphins on the video from up on the bow and managed to but only just about, they just wont cooperate so pay attention or you will miss them:
We crossed Charleston Harbor without stopping this time, as we had a rendezvous with our mail at a marina in Port Royal SC. The rest of the day was uneventful and we dropped anchor as the sun was setting in the mouth of Bull River, off the Coosaw river about 20 miles north of Port Royal.
We arrived at Port Royal Landing Marina by midday and had a rough docking as the currents run through the marina, which is on the Beaufort River, very fast. We have heard many times that in boating, you are either being entertained or you are the entertainment, and that day we were definately the entertainment. When we eventually tied up we needed food and a beer, so we borrowed the courtesy truck and drove into Beaufort, a lovely historic town with a riverfront park and classic southern style houses with wide porches and big old oak trees draped in spanish moss. Our friend the Hooligan was also at the marina so we caught up with his news over lunch. He left the next day and we stayed put to catch up on a few chores and replenish the ship’s stores.
The marina is family run and the staff are super friendly and helpful, great facilities, a truck we can use for free and a boat US discount as well so we are paying $54/night (or $1.50/ft of boat length). We had planned to leave after 2 nights but the remnants of hurricane Ida came through with lots of rain and 20-30 knot winds blowing, so we were happy to be tied up at the dock for 2 more nights. We heard that if you stay 5 nights, the marina gives you 2 nights free, but we decided that we should really get under way, so the next day, even though it was still a bit windy and cold when we woke up we got ready to go, but to take the chill off we turned on the heat. Almost immediately the fan sounded funny and then there was a burning smell, so we switched it off quick, and discovered a large fuse had blown and needed replacing. We called around locally but the part had to be ordered from the manufacturer, and couldn’t get here until monday (tomorrow). So we had to stay put, darn it, the upside being that we would be able to take advantage of the 2 free nights stay and also we would be able to attend the customer appreciation party on saturday night.
We have got a lot done in the meantime, and discovered another problem, a propane leak which we dickie fixed. Currently the running joke amongst the marina staff and locals is that we will still be here for thanksgiving or christmas; we wouldn’t be the first boater to come for one night and stay for a year, but we really are going to leave tomorrow as soon as the fuse arrives….. So watch this space!