Friday, 28 February 2014

3 Countries in 4 Days ….. February 2014

14 – 20 February 2014:  Providenciales, T&C to Luperon, DR – 19 53N 70 56W
P2140084Deploying the Flexible Plan Strategy

Had we been on a cruise ship it would have been quite acceptable to think that today we are in the Bahamas, we will cruise overnight and tomorrow we will arrive in the Turks & Caicos and stay two nights, then off we will go again and the next day we will wake up in the Dominican Republic.  But we are not a fully crewed cruise ship, we are just Balvenie with two of us onboard, and visiting 3 countries, sailing over 300 miles and stopping just twice in 4 days was not the plan! 

We left Atwood Harbour on the northeast coast of Acklins Island, P2200001Bahamas just after dawn in company with an American yacht C-Time, with Carla and Daniel onboard.  They are new to full time cruising and left their home port of Charleston, South Carolina mid January (just last month) to sail around the Caribbean.
Our joint plan was similar – use the forecast light southwest winds to have a  comfortable beam reach sail past the Bahamian island of Mayaguana and arrive at the entrance to Sandbore Channel, just north of West Caicos after dawn, then motor across the shallow Caicos Banks – before the sea breeze built - the last 10 miles to Sapodilla Bay on the south side of Providenciales, one of the Turks & Caicos Islands, total mileage 115, it was a perfect plan.

Flaws in the Perfect Plan

Firstly the wind gods decided there would be no westerly component in the wind, so much for a beam reach - we were hard on the wind again, but at least the winds were around 15 knots so not too bad but still plenty plenty salt water over the boat.
Thrown into the mix was the most hideous sea state we have seen for a very long while between the top of Acklins and Mayaguana Islands, a very short, sharp, steep and confused sea lasted for hours, aggravated more in places with an adverse current.

We decided to go around the top of Mayaguana which actually gave us a longer route but a much more comfortable ride which certainly seemed like a good idea at the time.  We had a glorious full moon and for a while life was good.
Day 2, Country 2

Eventually after tacking and ultimately motoring the last 2 hours we entered the T&C banks and headed for Sapodilla Bay.  The light was good and we motored along in less than 4 metres of clear water, dodging the odd dark patch along the way – might have been soft weed or crunchy coral heads, best not to find out the hard way so we avoided them all! 

We anchored at 11.30am, 148 miles covered.  Check in was easy, a short dinghy ride ashore, 5 minutes and USD50 later we were stamped into the Turks and Caicos, but this only included a 7 day stay for the boat, once this was up you either leave or pay USD300 for a cruising permit, ouch!  We figured we could see what we wanted to in a week at a push, so it was back to Balvenie to plan our stay.

Should Have Checked the Weather

We found wifi access so checked to see if the weather forecast had changed much since we left the Bahamas.  And it had … basically our period of light winds was drawing to a close, we had only 3 more days before reinforced trades would return and we would see over 25 knots consistently for well over a week, flip.
This meant that we would not to able to move around and explore for a week, and more importantly would not be able to leave until the winds settled.  We were anchored a fair way out into the bay and it was not an ideal sheltered or particularly comfortable spot, furthermore town was a few miles away.  P2190095This was not somewhere we wanted to be stuck for over a week, even if this island had just been voted “2nd Most Beautiful Island in the World” on Trip Advisor!!!

So we looked at our options and decided that we would rather forego exploring the Turks and Caicos and head straight for the Dominican Republic.  We lifted anchor the next day again in company with C-Time and headed south in light winds motoring over the banks to French Cay for a night.

Day 4, Country 3

Another early start saw us farewell the T&C, as I started writing this blog update I realised we didn’t even take a photo there, P2190092almost like the country we didn’t really visit, but we do have the stamps in our passports!!

It was another overnighter hard on the wind, with various uncomfortable sea states, plenty of water over the bow and a couple of hours motoring after dawn to make our target of Luperon before the daily sea breeze set in.  The fresh smell of land miles out, the silhouette of the high green mountains at daybreak and then the totally enclosed and sheltered harbour confirmed that this would be a much better spot to wait for the trades to ease.

Its Wonderful to See Trees & Hills & Hear the Birds Again

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Exiting the Exumas ….. February 2014

26 Jan – 13 Feb:  George Town to Atwood Harbour – 22 43N 73 52W

P1270141Dark and Stormy Day Sail

The winds finally settled enough for us to leave the shallow banks of the Bahamas and head south via the deep Exumas Sound.  We wanted to be away from Black Point at first light to try and time our arrival through the pass into George Town at high tide around mid afternoon.  We were up and ready to go early, but it was still that dark we couldn’t see the boats anchored around us!  Finally the skies lightened enough and we were on our way.

We exited through Dotham Cut at mid tide, and had another white water rafting experience through the grade 5 rapids before being spat out into the Exuma Sound.   The skies were full of heavy clouds, lines of squalls marched across – some we missed, some we didn’t, we even had the odd water spout form behind us.  Not exactly a relaxing days sail but we made good time to cover the 55 miles and arrived through the reef cut at the northern entrance to George Town right on high tide as planned.  We had a timely downpour just before anchoring so arrived with a salt free clean boat, always a bonus.P1270142

The Home of the Snow Birds

We had hoped to meet up with Jim and Carola on Koza but they had used the same weather window to move on from George Town further south so it might be quite some time before we catch up with them again.  But we sure weren’t lacking in company with just over 200 boats in the various anchorages throughout this popular harbour. 

This is the “turnaround point” for most of the Canadian and American snowbirds – they start making their way south down the protected waters of the East Coast Intracoastal Waterway system in autumn, most follow that route right down to Miami.  (We couldn't do any of it because of our deep keel and high mast!) 

Then it’s a long day sail or an overnighter out onto the Bahamas Bank where you can day sail in sheltered waters to within 30 miles of George Town. IMG_0369 Why sit in the snow at home when you can be part of this huge cruising community in the warmth?  Most of them make George Town their base for winter and the planned daily activities were somewhat overwhelming for those of us just passing by. 

Rock n Roll then Rake n Scrape

However we did partake in a couple of evening outings in company with American friends Kathy and Kurt off Five and Dime who we met in Maine in August.  First was to the nearby Chat n Chill Bar for an evening of Rock n Roll then another night we ventured over to George Town (a very long and wet dinghy ride) to sample the sounds of a Bahamian Rake n Scrape Band at Eddies Edgewater Bar.  Luckily the photos were too blurry so we have no evidence of yours truly looking very pigeon toed and uncoordinated while being whirled around the dance floor, raking and scraping, by one of the locals.P2060045

We spent many days in George Town waiting for the next big low to hit the east coast of mainland USA which sucks all the strong wind northward and we get to enjoy a brief lull in the prevailing easterly trade winds in the Bahamas, allowing us to go east once again.  Tony and Michelle on Tactical Directions caught up with us again and most days the 4 of us would dinghy into the nearby lagoon, walk over Stocking Island and Tony and I would take a long walk while Michelle and Mark ran for miles.

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Back into the Big Blue Wobbly Stuff

Fully stocked up on fresh produce to last a couple of weeks we finally slipped out of George Town harbour in company with Tactical Directions.  A forecast 15 knots from the southeast never did quite eventuate, no big surprise, and we sailed hard on the wind with adverse current the 45 miles northeast to Conception Island.  However as you can see from the photos it was worth every wave that crashed over the bow, we had found yet another magical spot.


We were barely 50 miles from busy George Town yet we had only a handful of yachts in this magical spot, not that we were complaining!  

We only stayed a couple of nights anchored off this deserted island and sadly farewelled Tony and Michelle for the season.  We have shared many anchorages with Tactical Directions since Darwin in 2006 but it is likely this will be the last as we head in different directions, but who knows?P2060033

P2050014Making Miles During a Lull in the Trades

While mainland USA got another major dumping of snow we took advantage of the easing of the trade winds and did a few long days to get south and east as far as we could.  From Conception Island we headed south 50 miles hard on the wind and with current against us to Clarence Town on Long Island.  We arrived just on dark and took three attempts to set our anchor, not what you want after  long days sail.

We stayed a couple of nights to let the winds ease some more, then did another 50 miles, which included several extra miles tacking, finally arriving at Pittstown on Crooked Island late afternoon.  The wind, of course, was right on the nose but light, the seas flat and apart from a few squalls too many it wasn’t a bad day.


Pittstown was just an overnight pit stop, the next morning we were off again in splendid conditions along the top of Crooked Island then adjoining Acklins Island in flat water and light winds the 35 miles to Atwood Harbour.  51 miles and 11 tacks later (need I mention that we were hard on the wind!!) we pulled into this lovely horseshoe shaped harbour with a long curving sandy beach, just a handful of yachts for company.  Yet another top stop in the Bahamas but it was to be our last. 

P2050018Balvenie sailed into the Bahamas on 07 Dec 2013 and it was now 13 Feb 2014.  We had explored from Walkers Cay in the north west to Acklins Island in the south east, covered 662 miles, stopped at 27 anchorages and didn’t run aground once in these shallow waters!! 

We were astounded but pleased at how under developed it all was, but we did stay away from the main tourist hotspots.  The weather was predictable and generally good, the temperatures around 20 – 25c,  the water a little cool for me - comfortable for Mark, the snorkelling disappointing but the anchorages generally superb.  It exceeded our expectations, and if we were “snowbirds” we couldn’t think of a better area to while away our cruising winters.

So - That Was the Bahamas ……. Where To Now????


Saturday, 8 February 2014

Enjoying the Exumas ….. January 2014

18 – 26January:  Big Majors Spot to Black Point – 24 06N 76 24W

Holiday Over, Time to Feed the PigsP1210108

Our little cruising community split up from Warderick WellsBodyguard used the break in the easterly winds to do a runner for Puerto Rico, several hundred miles away.  Out of the Bag made a fast exit north back to Nassau as Bills pacemaker decided to start short circuiting and he needed an urgent medical check-up. 

Balvenie, in company with Tactical Directions and Koza headed south to Big Majors Spot on Staniel Cay.  We had heard of this area as it is famous for a couple of things - the first is Thunderball Cave, named after the James Bond Movie “Thunderball” in which the cave featured.

P1190031Now the 2nd are the swimming pigs, yep you read that right.  There is a small deserted beach in the anchorage on which a few families of pigs and chickens live, and the passing cruisers go in their dinghies and feed food scraps to the pigs.

However over the years the pigs must have got very hungry. impatient or just bold as they no longer wait for cruisers to land their dinghies – they swim out for their supper!!

This was something we really needed to see for ourselves so we saved some food for a couple of days and off we went. …. meet the little, actually quite big, piggies.



Top Spot for Happy Hours

We have certainly had some fabulous beaches over the years for sitting and watching the sun go down but this one would have to take first prize for amenities.

Thanks to a small group of American cruisers who call this bay home for winter the deserted beach (not the same one where the pigs live!) has a couple of wooden tables, several chairs and sun loungers, new beach umbrellas, oil flame torches, a big gas bar-b-que (byo gas bottle) an interesting collection of beach games and finally an abundance of rakes so you can remove your footprints on departure and leave it pristine for the next lucky cruisers.

P1190062 P1200086

P1200094We chose the night when all the other cruisers would be tucked up in front of their satellite televisions watching the super bowl play off and had the beach to ourselves for a great bar-b-que and pot luck dinner. 

An excellent meal was accompanied by live music courtesy of skipper on guitar and some very questionable singing by the rest of us.  Luckily the sunset was so perfect it took our breath away and the singing stopped! 

Bond …. James Bond


The movie Thunderball has been around a long time, well Sean Connery played Bond so it’s an old timer, but the cave they used for the underwater shots is still riding on it’s Bond fame.  Our Cruising Guide warns of strong currents so we chose a day with calm conditions and slack tide and visited in company with Tony and Michelle at low tide, which makes swimming under the rocky overhang to enter the cave much easier.


P1190055The cave is quite small and we were lucky to have it to ourselves for a while to explore its depths.  There was the best selection of tropical fish we have seen in the Bahamas, but they won’t be there much longer as we also saw a lionfish.  These are a huge pest throughout the Caribbean and are reducing the number of other fish dramatically.

Shark Alert

Back onboard Balvenie we had our own underwater attraction for most of the time.  Don’t know what it is about the underside of our boat but is seems that the resident shark population like to make it home while we are in port.


It’s Another Cold Front

A Polar Vortex (a very significant weather event according to our morning weather forecaster) was causing chaos on the US mainland and while temperatures plummeted to all time recorded lows in parts of the eastern seaboard it dipped to a chilly 18c in the Exumas and we got clipped by more nor’westerlies for a couple of days.  

Big Majors Spot was not a good place to be for this as protection was limited, but with our draft it was the best we could do in the area so we sat out the bumpy seas until the wind shifted.  On day 2 of the front Koza decided to use the northerlies and they headed on south to George Town, 60 miles away.  We hope to catch them again soon.P1210122

Our antipodean cruising community was now down to a very compact two boats, just Balvenie and Tactical Directions remained,

When the weather calmed down we both moved south about 10 miles to Black Point.  About 30 other boats had the same idea and emerged from all the anchorages around.  A steady procession of boats headed down and anchored off this small settlement of 300  residents. 

There’s not much in Black Point but considering there has been virtually nothing ashore in any of the other stops we have had in the Exumas it had plenty to offer.P1230124  First and foremost was the laundromat, and not just any laundromat – this one is right on the waterfront with its own dinghy dock, small store, free wifi and new clean machines, heaven for us cruisers. 

Other on shore delights included the small grocery store but sadly the mail/supply boat hadn’t turned up so much sought after fresh produce was nowhere to be found. 

We spent a few days here waiting for a weather window to exit through the nearby cut out into Exuma Sound and head south to George Town.  Long walks were taken, happy hours shared onboard and even a couple of meals ashore were enjoyed.

 We Are Happy To Wait  - Life Is Good 


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Bahamian Rhapsody in the Exumas ….. Jan 2014

07 – 17 Jan 2014: Highborne Cay to Warderick Wells – 24 23N 76 38W

P1130387Finally the White Sandy Beaches

We took advantage of a light southerly wind to cross the Exuma Sound.  We exited Rock Sound on Eleuthera via the Davies Channel and headed west, the wind was on the beam, the seas flat and we had a great sail to Highborne Cay on the Exumas, all part of the Bahamas. 

We entered through Highborne Cut at slack water and with moderate wind but as with the other cuts we have ventured through the currents are very lively, kicking up lines of white water where the deep waters from the sound meet the shallows of the bank.P1130371 

Whirlpools are a common sight in and around the cuts, the oil slick like water on top entices you in then steerage is sometimes lost as you surrender to natures forces and hope you get spat out the other side and not sucked down to meet invisible sea monsters! 

We rounded the corner to a small anchorage off a pocket sized secluded beach and anchored next to our friends on Koza who had sailed down from Nassau.   It was a magical scene, cloudless skies, crystal clear water, white sands, palm trees, tiny islands all around us, perfect sunset, but we knew this picture was about to change as we had come here to sit out the next cold front and accompanying north west winds. P1090291

We bounced around for the next 36 hours as the winds apposed the tides and currents, but our life is so weather dependant we just have to make do.  Gradually the wind clocked to the north east, we had much better protection, the seas started to calm once again and life returned to normal. 

We even ventured out on a snorkelling expedition, disappointing overall but we have seen an array of outstanding underwater life over the years it now takes so much to meet our high expectations.

FOUND:  The Most Beautiful Beach – Ever!!!

We moved on down the Exumas chain to Shroud Cay, not such an appealing anchorage but the island itself is a labyrinth of white sand, clear water mangrove creeks that beg to be explored.  We have never seen such a clear inland water way and the bright white sand was outstanding, we thought we had seen the best, then we came out onto the ocean side and WOW!!!



Can It Get Any Better?

We arrived around 11am (access is only via the creek on a rising tide) and the beach was empty, not another footprint, definitely no other humans, no rubbish – just totally pristine and stunningly beautiful.  About 10 minutes later Jim and Carola arrived in their dinghy and the 4 of us explored this incredible spot. 

P1110332   P1110317


We spent a few hours enjoying the solitude in this stunning location then navigated our way back through a maze of mangroves.  Carola had been smart enough to bring her iPad and the creeks were charted quite accurately – we just followed them and eventually popped back out close to the anchorage.

Can It Get Any Better? – well Yes It Can !!!! 


We moved on the following morning another 20 miles south to Warderick Wells in the Exumas Land and Sea Park.  We had been told by our Dutch friends on Bodyguard that the Northern Mooring Field was the best place to be, so along with them and Koza we booked a mooring and headed on down.P1120343

But there was just one problem!!!

Although the mooring and most of the channel had enough water for us there were a couple of spots that didn’t so we were given an outside mooring until high tide, then offered one inside the lagoon – but entry “at our own risk!!” 

As we arrived to pick up our outside mooring our very good Australian friend Tony off Tactical Directions came zooming out in his dinghy to help us tie up.  We have known Tony since Darwin in 2006 and have travelled many miles in his company, including cruising the coasts of Oman, Yemen and Eritrea, most recently we left the Cape Verde Islands with him to cross the Atlantic Ocean.  We had not seen him for 2 years and it was great to reunite and catch up. P1140460

We waited all afternoon for the water level to rise, but with beach Happy Hour fast approaching we nurdled our way in before high tide. P1140472 It’s a very narrow channel bordered by sand bars, the sliver of deep blue water is cluttered with evenly spaced moored yachts, sitting like little ducks in a row at mercy of the swift current.  But we made it, without incident – with everyone watching us!!!

Simply Stunning

My supply of adjectives is failing, we both agree that this is the most beautiful tropical anchorage we have ever been in.  This natural lagoon area has the softest, whitest sand and there are many very shallow sand bars.  Because of the whiteness of the sand and the shallow water the colours are amazing, bold and vibrant and every possible shade of blue imaginable.  P1130377

It is a very special spot and we did not tire of just sitting looking at its changing beauty each hour of the day as the sun moved around, and the moons reflection on the barely submerged sand bars at night made them glow in the dark, well … the whole experience was priceless.

Part of the charm is the fact that it is National Park, so no hotels – no even a shacky beach bar, and it is too far from anywhere for day tripper tour boats.  There is just the Park Headquarters and us very lucky cruisers.

More Magic Under the Water

Although the snorkelling in and around the lagoon was disappointing (mainly because it is mostly sand) we were treated to an amazing underwater spectacle.  Several rays seemed to live close to our mooring and from the boat we could watch them pass by below us.


We swam above them several times, watching them glide by below us was somehow ”other worldly”.  We came back down to earth though when we spotted the sharks, I left skipper with the camera and headed straight for our boarding ladder!!


A couple of times we were lucky enough to be looking the right way at the right time and saw a ray come flying out of the water, airborne for a couple of seconds before dive bombing back under water …. maybe the sharks were hunting dinner.


P1150534Holiday Time

We had just the best week here, we were back in a cruising community.  In addition to Koza, Bodyguard and Tactical Directions we also met Kiwi Jean and Aussie Bill on Out of the Bag, it was a busy social scene with happy hours on the beach, pot luck dinners, kayaking excursions and even morning exercise “boot camp”  with Michelle off Tactical Directions cracking the whip and getting us into shape!


pot luck dinner on Out of the Bag – Dennis & Ank (Bodyguard) Carola & where’s Jim? (Koza) Michelle & Tony (Tactical Directions) Jean & Bill (Out of the Bag)


Holiday Over ….. Time To Go Cruising Again!!!