05 – 27 Dec 2013: Charleston US to Lynyard Cay Bahamas – 26 21N 76 59W
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. 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.
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!
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.
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!
Over 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.
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. 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. Sure, 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.
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
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 – went 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.