Thursday, 23 January 2014

Off the Beaten Track in Eleuthera ….. January 2014

27 Dec 2013 – 06 Jan 2014: Lynyard Cay to Rock Sound –24 51N  76 10W  PC300270

Time To Move South

We moved on from peaceful Lynyard Cay in the Abacos in a flotilla of 12 yachts.  Like us, the others had been waiting for a weather window to head south, and to do so requires exiting through one of the reef passes into the Atlantic.  10 of the boats were able to take a shorter route and leave via the shallow but more sheltered Little Harbour Bar to the south, but Koza and Balvenie retraced their steps north and had quite an exciting exit back out North Bar Channel followed by a brisk sail south with steady winds on the beam and a big Atlantic swell rolling under us.PC290267  

Royal Island – Shattered Dreams

64 miles later we dropped anchor in the sheltered harbour at Royal Island just on 5pm, it was very good to be back in flat water!   Royal Island is just off the northwest tip of the large island of Eleuthera.  Ashore was rather an interesting place, another failed developers dream of which we have seen many on our travels.  This one was planned to have a large marina, five star hotel, Jack Nicklaus designed 18 hole golf course and several waterfront residential properties. 

The porta-cabin offices remain, a calendar on the wall shows August 2008, pieces of phones and computers sit on office desks, the boardroom table still accommodates a dozen plush  board chairs, wicker furniture is piled in a corner, all are covered in cobwebs and mould.PC290268  Several artist impression drawings hang on the walls, depicting the dream that was.  However rusted abandoned construction machinery, unwrapped water tanks and piles of yet to be installed piping along with faded “Lots For Sale” signs show the reality that is.   It was very difficult to imagine just how anyone thought this rocky island with no good beaches would ever be transformed into the “artists impressions” and the developers vision.

Tranquil Lakes & Woodlands??

We moved on south in wonderful conditions, again we needed to take a long route around in order to find enough water to stay afloat, the exits out and back into the bank were uneventful, but even in near perfect conditions the currents through the cuts were fierce. P1020273 After another long days sailing we motored through the man made entrance in the limestone cliffs, (which seriously did not look wide enough) into the completely deserted anchorage of Hatchet Pond at the sleepy settlement of Alice Town.       

Both our Cruising Guides spoke quite highly of this area, one mentioning rolling hills, valleys and lakes reminiscent of Scotland, the other talked of rolling pastures similar to Texas cattle land.  Then there were to be the extensive pineapple plantations and interesting limestone caves. P1020272

Definitely worth serious exploring so we took the bikes ashore one day and teamed up with a South African cruising couple on their bikes.  We were rather underwhelmed by what we saw but had a great day out and it was excellent to get in some serious exercise.   In fairness we did find a cave and took a short look into its gooey, smelly, dark depths then left before we got attacked by bats. 

And yes, the countryside was rolling, certainly more up and downs than we are used to living at sea level but the grazed pastureland is long gone, reclaimed by scrub and bushes – the abandoned decaying silos the only reminder of the glory days when this island was farmed and prosperous. P1050276 Oh the pineapples, our guide states they once shipped thousands of tons of the fruit to America and England yearly yet we didn’t see one pineapple.  

We had a tasty conch lunch in the tiny harbour-side hamlet of Gregory Town before tackling the rolling countryside and peddling back to Alice Town. 

The End of the Line

We spent New Year’s Eve in sleepy Alice Town, no fireworks or hooters went off, not even a solitary sky rocket but the timing wasn’t great with another cold front passing overhead.  We waited a couple of days for the weather to settle then left with a 15knot easterly forecast expecting a comfortable sail just in front of the beam in flat water with the wind coming off the land. P1050279

The first half was rather ghastly, the seas were whipped up and it was very bouncy, then the tide changed and what a difference that made for the remaining 20 miles to Rock Sound.   We spent two nights in this very shallow harbour anchored a long way offshore.  A Sunday afternoon excursion ashore showed another worn out little town with not much happening, several buildings were derelict and looked like they belonged on the bombed out village film set from Saving Private Ryan! 

There is supposed to be a large agricultural industry still present on this long sliver of land, and tourism has touched a few spots along the way, the rest just looks to be scraping to make ends meet.  From what we saw Eleuthera has sadly seen better days.PC300271 

 Off To Find Palm Lined Sandy Beaches

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Balvenie Tiptoes through the Abacos ….. Dec 2013

05 – 27 Dec 2013: Charleston US to Lynyard Cay Bahamas – 26 21N 76 59W

Finally Heading to Warmer ClimesPC040170

We departed Charleston on a warm clear morning and started our passage southeast with flat seas and light winds.  The first day and night out were magical.  We had beautiful conditions: sunny skies all day, scores of dolphins frolicked in our bow wave continuously, the sunset was perfect and darkness brought a starry sky as bright and brilliant as any we have witnessed. 

As we know perfect conditions rarely last and daybreak day two brought with it a band of squalls, a slight strengthening of the wind and a change of wind angle to directly where we wanted to go. PC080184 Combined with the northwest running Gulf Stream conditions were not what you would call favourable, but we soldiered on with winds across the boat up to 23knots, always sailing as high as we could.  

We  had originally planned to make landfall on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera, slightly further south and east of the Abacos chain but as the wind angle changed so did our plans, we headed for the Abacos instead.  The photo shows the dark bold line as the direct route, just 346 miles, the dotted line on the right that goes all the way out, then comes all the way back is our route – 526 miles sailed.

PC040163 PC040174PC040171

Land Ahoy!PC260255

We spotted the lights of Grand Cay predawn on our 5th morning.  Rather a long sail to cover quite a short distance but besides not actually being able to point at our destination  it hadn’t been a bad trip.

We made our way into the Abaco Islands chain of the Northern Bahamas through Walkers Cay Channel and dropped anchor in crystal clear water off Tea Table Cay.  Next up was a hearty cooked breakfast accompanied by a rather stiff Rum and Coke – landfall is not complete without a Rum, no matter what time of day!

PC140192Dipping Our Toes in the Abacos

After checking in and contributing US$300 to the Bahamian economy for the pleasure of receiving our 3 month cruising permit we started wandering slowly eastwards through this low lying island chain.

The waters here are mighty shallow and each day we would plot our course through “deep water”  like doing a join up the dots game.  We tried very hard to stay in 4m, sometimes this just wasn't possible and often we glided along with just a metre of water between us and land, somewhat unnerving when sailing along at 5 knots with full sail up!   This was made even more exciting on the not so infrequent occasion when the charted depths were less than what we were seeing, even at high tide – not good for the nerves.


Playmates Again!PC160199

We were surprised at how quiet this area was, we saw few other yachts along the way so were thrilled to hear on our morning SSB Radio net that friends Jim and Carola on Aussie boat Koza were heading our way.

We moved most days as the weather here at this time of the year is quite unsettled.  The winter cold fronts crossing the USA reach this far south and although the temperatures don’t drop much, the wind goes round in circles (very similar to what we experienced last year in Belize).  So checking and digesting the weather has become quite a time consuming daily task and then out comes all the charts as we check possible routes and search out sheltered anchorages, its keeping us on our toes!

PC160203Over the next couple of weeks we stopped at small cays (islands) mostly uninhabited.  This was really not what we had expected.  We had envisioned the Bahamas to be an extension of Florida with ghastly high rise resorts and jet skis but the good news is that any attempt to develop this beautiful part of the world tends to get scuppered by the odd hurricane, and so a cruising yacht can still come here and find solitude. 

As the sun sets off Balvenies stern the only sounds are of the odd turtle breaking the surface and exhaling before taking another deep breath and slipping out of sight again or the rhythmical swish of a seabirds wings as he passes overhead on his way home. PC230247

Back to “Civilisation”

With some changeable winds forecast and our supply of fresh produce dwindling we headed for the very protected anchorage within Marsh Harbour.  We found several other yachts congregated in this compact area.  There is a reasonable town with all the amenities we needed – excellent supermarket, phone shop for internet sim, laundromat, diesel and water available, an atm, and a handful of bars/restaurants perched over the water to enjoy the odd happy hour or two. 


Replacing More Aging Equipment

Whilst waiting for the weather to improve, Mark spent a couple of days removing our old SSB radio, tuner and all its wiring and replacing it with our recently purchased Icom M802.  Our old Kenwood has served us very well but has become unreliable over the past 18 months, even after being repaired twice, so before we left the USA we purchased a replacement. 

At over NZ$3,000 these are an expensive piece of equipment but one we are just not prepared to do without. PC180206 The twice daily cruisers net we partake in (and several others we sometimes listen to) are a big part of our day, we can talk to our friends hundreds of miles away and find out where and how they are – Bandit are now in Panama, Eye Candy in the US Virgins, Serafina in Dominica, GWTW & Cristata in Florida, to name just a few.  We also pick up detailed daily weather forecasts on air and can send text only emails too. 

Anybody that tells us High Frequency Radios are no longer necessary in the age of internet and satellite phones has probably never had one – to us they are priceless.  PC220209Sure, we are happy to have our satphone too, but they are very expensive and you can only talk to one person at a time! As for internet, well we love having it onboard but that, of course, is subject to being in range of a cell tower.  Our SSB works anywhere and it’s like having a good old fashioned party line – best not say anything bad cos you just never know who is listening!! 

Short Hop over to Hopetown

In company with Koza, we made use of settled weather for a couple of days and headed across to nearby Hopetown.  There is a very sheltered harbour there but it is too shallow for us both, so we had to anchor a very long way out - as you can see on the photo below from the top of the Candy Stripped, manned, kerosene fuelled lighthouse.PC220212

We went ashore for a stroll through the very well cared for village.  There is little traffic, mainly golf carts on small lanes, just a handful of touristy shops, a cafe, a couple of harbour side restaurants, a small museum and post office – and ALL were closed on this sleepy Sunday morning just days before Christmas!!  All the houses have been painted in an array of vibrant colours, most appeared to be holiday rentals, but all up it was a quaint wee place and the oceanside beach had the softest ever sand.




picturesque houses, very well decorated letterbox and the Atlantic beach all at Hopetown

PC260259Inclement Weather for Christmas Day

After another couple of nights  back at Marsh Harbour we stocked up on produce and left the sheltered waters of the Abaco Banks on Christmas Eve.  In brilliant sunshine and light winds we headed out one of the cuts in the reef back into the Atlantic.  We had a short run of under 30 miles before we ducked back inside the reef to sheltered water and  the anchorage at Lynyard Cay

The forecast for bad weather on Christmas Day turned up right on schedule (but Santa Claus didn’t!!), Koza – being hardy Australians who will bar-b-que in any weather – PC260262went ashore in what could only be described as very much less than perfect conditions and had our planned Christmas barbie on the beach.  We went for the Roast Pork and all the trimmings option, tucked up inside Balvenie, out of the wind and rain,  maybe we are just softies!!

We stayed on Boxing Day, the sun returned and conditions were perfect, we spent time ashore – the soft sandy beach golden in the sun, the water clear and warm.  But we weren’t alone, a family of turtles kept a close eye on us during our stay, popping their heads up to check on our whereabouts frequently.  And then we realized why – for the first time ever we saw two baby turtles, flying past at speed in shallow water, what an absolute treat.

PC230249 Those Were the Abacos …… off to Explore Eleuthera