Oh Wow!

We hunkered down in this small and protected harbor because we knew “weather” was coming. Royal Island Harbor is small, roughly 1 mile from east to west and a quarter that north to south, and closed in except for a narrow opening game to the south.

The forecast models suggested that we would be right on edge of the nasty conditions, maybe a bit south of the worst of it. In any event, we knew that we didn’t want to be out sailing in winds forecast to be in the low 30’s. We certainly can sail in those winds but really prefer to avoid it if possible.

This morning was calm and clear. There were clouds off to the north, but nothing ominous. Most of the day continued in the same vein, and by the middle of the afternoon I was thinking we might just dodge this bullet. Not true…

We were hanging on the anchor in a very light south wind. A glance out the companionway showed a line of dark and scary looking clouds to the north. I suggested that Karen might want to get the drying laundry inside just as the first cold breath of wind arrived from the north with a spit of rain in it. The boat quickly swung around and pointed into the new wind direction, and the clouds lowered and darkened.

The wind started to pick up, and the world started to change, and not for the better. A hundred yards outside our snug little harbor the waters of the bay were whirling around in a circle as a large water spout started to spin up (that’s a tornado to you landlubbers).

It certainly doesn’t look like much in a still photo, but the rapidly rotating winds of an incipient waterspout/tornado are not something anybody wants nearby. Off to the right you can see the gray wall of rain.

Moments later, this was all that could be seen in that direction.

In 5 minutes the wind went from 4 knots from the south to 55 knots (!) from the northeast. Visibility was as close to zero as can be in drenching rain and blowing spray. The shoreline disappeared. All the other boats in the harbor disappeared. The bow of our boat disappeared. It was loud. It was, frankly, terrifying. Oh, yes, let’s not forget the lightening and thunder…

I started the engine so it would be ready if needed. During the worst of the blow I had the engine in gear taking some of the load off the anchor. I was at the helm watching the track of the boat swinging on the anchor as the GPS reported it’s position. We did not move a bit. That new—and bigger—Mantus anchor was worth every penny.

Right now, three hours later, we are sitting comfortably as I write with the wind still blowing at over 30 knots. After 55, 30 seems positively quiet and peaceful.

There are five other boats in the harbor: Three sailing catamarans, another sailing monohull of about 45 feet, and the 78 foot Cochise, the Dashew’s high end motor yacht. All of the catamarans dragged significantly, although none disastrously, and none in our direction. Before the front approached, Cochise had moved her position in the anchorage to get away from the crowd of catamarans in the eastern end. A wise move in retrospect.

We learned (and relearned) a few lessons. Most things we did right, and, as always, there were a few things we could have done better.

We chose a well protected place to wait out the weather, even though it took us a day or more out of our way to get here.

Whenever we anchor, we always prepare for the worst. We had our anchor set with enough chain out that we didn’t need to make frantic adjustments when the weather turned unexpectedly bad. Our anchor, chain, and snubber all did exactly what they were supposed to, in conditions worse than we expected.

In the case of bad weather the boats around you are likely to be the most dangerous things. Knowing the direction the wind was going to be coming from, we had positioned ourselves away from the crowd.

Winds over 45 knots really limit what you can do. You can’t see. You can’t walk upright. Improvising in case of a problem is really, really hard. If we had gotten in trouble and really needed to run, we should have had a buoy ready to clip on the anchor chain so we could drop it and recover later.

Overall, it went well. The boat, her systems, and her crew, all did well. Tomorrow’s forecast is for winds of 10 to 15 knots. Perfect for our next sailing leg.

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Famous Neighbors…

We are anchored off of Spanish Wells in Royal Island Harbor. This is a tiny little bay that is unusual in this area of the Bahamas because it is an anchorage with excellent protection from wind and waves from all directions. We are here because a late winter cold front is forecast to pass through tomorrow. We’ll hunker down here until the wind and rain pass, and then resume our route west.


A couple hours after we arrived this morning an unusual looking aluminum hulled motor yacht came into the anchorage. Of a very distinctive design, it turned out to be the 78 foot long Cochise, the personnel boat of Steve and Linda Dashew. Steve is one of the best know yacht designers around and the FPB series of motor yachts is his ultimate idea of what a cruising yacht should be.

After we left Mayaguana we spent a few days at East Plana Cay, another uninhabited member of the Plana Island group.

With a small, poorly charted, and rather unprotected, anchorage the island is not often visited. The only evidence of other humans we found ashore were some footprints in dried mud in the interior of the island. The anchorage was beautiful, the beaches full of shells.

In the early 1960’s this island was the last place in the world where the Bahamian hutia could be found. These guinea pig-like rodents keep the vegetation diversity limited to those plants they find inedible. Despite that the island is green and beautiful. After visiting several islands that are now home to large populations of hutia, we have yet to see a live one. They apparently are very strictly nocturnal.

Foootprints we did find on the island were:

Land crab “foot” prints
Lizard tracks
Tracks of the elusive hutia

The most common trees on the island are the machaneel tree, “the little apple of death” with sap so nasty if you sit under the tree in the rain it will raise scarring blisters on your skin.

Don’t sit under this apple tree with anybody!

A fair number of Turk’s Head Catus were to be found. A normal looking green barrel cactus, with a large red flower stalk.

Turks head cactus

The flowers themselves are tiny, and buried down in the spines, probably designed to be pollinated by ants.

Turks head flowers

The island had large number of curly-tailed lizards of a species different than we have seen elsewhere.

The East Plana version of the curly tailed lizard

And a resident pair of nesting osprey who have been adding to this nest for many years.

In her beach combing Karen was determined to find a helmet. Always helpful, I called her over when I found one…

She did better herself, finding the kind helmet shell she really wanted…

It is an unfortunate fact that on only ocean island these days there will be lots of trash. Much of what we see is lost bits and pieces of commercial fishing gear. Here, for example, is a large piece of a net…

Sometimes you find something less common, like this radio buoy used by long line fishermen. Long liners fish with baited hooks suspended from long—VERY long—lines. Every 10 miles of line, they attached a radio buoy. so they can keep track of the lines. Tuna and swordfish are the most common targets of they fishery. Apparently, sometimes the buoys themselves go walkabout…

We did some fishing ourselves in the deep waters surrounding the island. This is one pull of line from 600 feet deep. Three silk snapper, and one red snapper.

I have managed to work out a system for retrieving this much line without having my arm fall off…

Bring up several snapper, plus a 4 pound sinker from 600 feet down

I know, I know… it’s CHEATING! I agree… right up to the moment that a fillet of silk snapper lands on my dinner plate. They are SOOOO good…

In two or three days we’ll be landing in Fort Lauderdale, and running around to routine doctor visits, and resupply stops, repair shops, and then start heading north.

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Plans… Plans… Plans…

In our onshore excursion today we did take an extended walk across the island away from the main road. See below for the circumstances around that time killing exercise. The variety of plants that grow here is astounding. Including plants that you might have heard of, but never actually seen. The basic ecosystem is a mixed hardwood forest, with the tallest trees maybe 15 to 20 feet tall. Mahogany, Lignum vitae, and tamarind are common. Poisonwood and machaneel are common enough to make you careful about what you touch. Flowers and butterflies abound. A delightful place.

In looking at our cruising plans for the summer season, we realized that we really want to get further north, maybe as far as Newfoundland. If that is going to be a priority, then heading north early is going to be a good idea. Since we have already touched the places that were on our visit list for this winter, it seems like this is a good place to turn around. So… for this season Mayaguana, Bahamas is going to be our furthest south and east destination. Tomorrow we begin to retrace our steps back in the direction that we came from.

Our first stop on our return trip will be to revisit the Plana Cays. This time, we’ll be checking out East Plana Cay which looks to be at least as much fun as West Plana Cay where we stayed a week ago. We’ll be there for a few days beach combing, bushwacking, snorkeling, and fishing.

Our real adventure today was getting our Bahamian fishing license renewed. This requires a trip to the Customs Office. Last year when we did this in the city of Marsh Harbor, we presented our paperwork and the officer in charge made disapproving noises about the staff at Bimini. He said that our fishing permit should have been good for a year. He crossed out the original date, wrote in a new one, and sent us on our way. Problem solved.

Out here, things were a bit more complex. We had to redo ALL our paperwork as if we were entering the country for the first time. Then it has to all be approved and stamped by the “Administrator.” Stamping is very important, and only the Administrator can do the stamping.

The problem is that the Administrator is not in the office. It seems he is out at the airport meeting today’s plane. “He’ll be back in a half hour.” Now, we know what that means in island time. So we go for a walk (see above) and return 90 minutes later, at noon. The Administrator is not back yet, and somehow is STILL expected in a half hour. Karen is smart enough to ask when the plane is due.

“Oh, One o’clock. Maybe One-thirty. If it’s not late.”

We walk down to the beach and hang out until two o’clock. Our paperwork is finally ready, with all the official stamps in lots of places.

Out at the Plana Cays we’ll be internet limited again, with only our sat phone connection. Just imagine… The pleasure of NOT reading the news for a week. 🙂

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Stalking the Wild Flamingo

From our position anchored in Abraham’s Bay in Mayaguana, Bahamas we looked over toward town. From the distance we could see the Red Mangrove trees along the shoreline, but the roots of the trees looked unusually red. A quick look with binoculars confirmed our first sighting of an honest to goodness flock of wild flamingos.

From the boat’s deck the birds were barely visible as they fed on the shallow mudflats.

Today’s project was to get on shore, and get better pictures of the birds, but before we did that, we took some time to hike around the island. Our plan was to hike to the north beach. Unfortunately, on an island with 4 roads, I missed our turnoff. So we ended up half way across the island before we decided we were tired enough to head back.

If we were choosing a name for this island today, it would have to be some version of “Butterfly Island.” A large variety of colorful butterflies were everywhere along the road. These pictures were all taken within a 3 minute walk…

This island has a significantly smaller population of small lizards compared to other nearby islands, probably because of the large population of kestrels.

About the size of a large pigeon, the Kestrel is a serious hunter of anything small enough for it to pin down.

After our travels across the island, we were back the the settlement of Abraham’s Bay and we set out across the mangrove flats to get closer to the flock of large pink birds. There were obstacles, like the 10 foot wide web built across the trail by this large–and strange looking–spider.

I learned a couple of things about flamingos. First, is that they are very skittish birds. A human within 100 yards of so sets them off to nervous “chattering” among themselves and they start to move away.

The other thing I learned, is that there is a very wide color variation within a single flock of birds. Yes, there are certainly many that are the garish salmon-pink of a tacky plastic lawn ornament, but many others are gray, or white, or the barest hint of pale pink.

The variation of color within one flock is quite large.
Two birds in full color coming in for a landing.
I am not sure how many places in the world you could get this picture. An adult osprey wading in front of a flock of Caribbean Flamingos.
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Mayaguana and Pictures

If you are reading this on email or Facebook you might want to click through to FetchinKetch.net to see all the photos.

We left the uninhabited island of West Plana Cay yesterday morning and arrived at the barely inhabited (pop: 277) island of Mayaguana in the early evening. We stopped here two years ago and enjoyed it, but moved on before we had a chance to explore much. Mayaguana is blessed with a very well protected harbor, and It looks like we’ll be here for several days as a weather front passes.

As promised, here are some pictures that we have accumulated since our last internet connection..

Sailing out of Georgetown, we landed a blackfin tuna, one of the smaller and less common members of the tuna family, but locally abundant , and very tasty.

While we always enjoy the contribution to the freezer such a catch makes, the cleanup can be a bit daunting!

The beach at Acklins Island was pretty, but narrow and rocky. The large coral rock boulders covered the land as far as we could see, making inland exploration too rough for our tastes.

The land was relatively lush with varied small trees.

And the deeper side of the reef yielded up some tasty grouper.

Our route around the southern end of Acklins Is. took us past the small Castle Island featuring a defunct lighthouse. One general rule about how navigation lights work in the Bahamas, they don’t.

Off the east side of Castle Island there is a deep reef that donated a Silk snapper to our freezer from 400 feet under the surface.

The island of West Plana Cay had the kind of beach Karen dreams about, where the only visible footprints are her own, and there are lots of shells.

Although no one lives on the Plana Cays, the conch fisherman visit regularly, and have for years judging by the variety of ages of the shells on their discard pile.

There are ruins from an earlier time. I haven’t seen anything on the history of these islands, so I don’t know how old they might be or what kind of living they might have been trying to make.

Ruins of smaller scale. Note the very sparse vegetation of very limited variety. Especially compared to Acklins Island just a few dozen miles to the west. We suspect there are two reasons for that.

This is as close as we have come to seeing a live Bahamian hutia, a strictly nocturnal rodent that is the only native mammal in the Bahamas. With limited predators, they come to dominate the ecosystem on any islands where they exist.

Non-native mammals are also doing their part to keep the vegetation in check. This is the first Bahamian Island we have seen with feral goats.

In some places on the island large terrestrial hermit crabs are very common.

Like many of the islands here, the land crab burrows are everywhere the soil is damp.

If you should sail by, West Plana Cay should be more than just an overnight anchorage to break up a passage, it’s worth exploring at some length.

Our arrival in Abraham’s Bay, Mayaguana was heralded with one of the more spectacular sunsets we have seen, and we see a lot of awesome sunsets!

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On to the Plana Cays

Like I said in the last post… when the weather agrees, you go along!

From our anchorage at Acklins Island we had some successes and some disappointments. Our first day, we spent fishing. We trolled lures all along the edge of the reef and got nothing. Nothing… until it was time to pull up the lines at the end of the day. After several hours of trying with no luck we were headed back into the anchorage. I had pulled in all the lines except the last handline, and it was almost halfway into the boat when a cero mackerel grabbed the lure, and ended up in our freezer. About as “last minute” a success as you can have!

The next day was beach exploring. The beaches are beautiful, but were a little bit of a disappointment for Karen because there was a lack of interesting shells. We had expected to do some exploring inland, but that was not to be. This part of the island is not sand or solid rock, but rather a jumble of large, angular coral rock boulders. Very unfriendly to try to walk on.

We decided to take advantage of a break in the weather and jump to the next landmark. A 10 hour sail to the Plana Cays, a pair of uninhabited islands along the route to Mayaguana, our next major landfall. As we rounded the southern corner of Acklins Island, there is a long deep reef system that extends to the east. We paused there to drop a line, and in fairly short order pulled a nice, big, bright red “silk snapper” up from 400 feet under the boat. The rest of the sail was as nice as they come. Karen suggested that if sailing was always like this we’d sail until the food ran out. Daybreak brought us up to West Plana Cay were we anchored in the lee of the island.

The first beach-combing expedition here on West Plana turned up more shells, although Karen is still reserving judgement about how awesome it will be. Both East and West Plana Cay are currently uninhabited, but we did find ruins of very old occupations. Also, a pile of conch shells where the visiting fisherman clean their catch.

We even found the skull of a rodent, obviously not a common rat, it is wider and much heavier. It is almost surely the remains of the the only native mammal in the Bahamas, the Bahamian Hutia. The Plana Cays were the last place they were found before they were reintroduced to other islands. We didn’t see any evidence of living hutia on the island, but a marked lack of diversity in the local flora suggest that they might be here in significant numbers.

We’ll be watching the weather for the next few days here since this anchorage is open to the ocean the the east, it is not a place we want to be in case of a change in the winds. Our next harbor will be Mayaguana, about 30 miles to windward of our current location. Once we get there we’ll have a connection to allow posting of photos.

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Going While the Going is Good

When the weather cooperates, you have to take advantage! We left Georgetown, where we were surrounded by hundreds of other boats, and ended up, 24 hours later, anchored off the southeast corner of Acklins Island in a place a world apart. From the sparkle of hundreds of anchor lights, here there now are a total of three (including ours). There is not a single light visible on shore. No dunken sailors singing. No other boats we have to worry about how THEIR anchors are holding if the wind picks up. The stars are brilliant, the phosphorescent critters in the water entertain in the dark. This is way better.

As we sailed away from Georgetown the wind was light, but generally favorable. As the day moved along, the winds faded, and we toughed it out, sometimes just barely making way, in winds as light as 2 or 3 knots, but knowing that more wind was coming our way. As we rounded the northern corner of Long Island, the wind picked up and we picked up speed. Just a few minutes before I brought the fishing lines in for the evening, we hooked and landed a Blackfin Tuna. Not huge fish but Karen had put an order in for a fish suitable for serving up as poke(*), and it was delivered!

Overnight, the wind picked up from a mostly favorable direction and we made good progress to the southeast sometimes making 8 knots. We are anchored in an open roadstead, with good protection from the normal tradewinds from the northeast through the southeast. We are anchored in a narrow sandy spot close to shore in about 15 feet of water. As close as 500 feet off our stern it is a thousand feet deep.

We will be here for a couple days waiting for the next weather window to let us move east again. In the mean time, we have miles of empty beach to explore and banks and reef to fish.

Here we are back to the delightful situation of being internet deprived. At the very fringes of cellular connectivity, we get email once a day—maybe. Relaxing to not have devices clamoring for our attention!

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