Heading North

Time 1445 local
Lat N 25° 08.6’
Lon W 76° 32.6′
Nautical miles from Cape Eleuthera Marina, Bahamas: 21.3
Nautical miles to Norfolk Harbor, Virginia: 708.9

Our summer migration has started. We got underway from Cape Eleuthera Marina at 10AM, and since then have been making our way across the Bahama Bank. By dark, we will be back in the open ocean headed north. So far the sailing is easy and comfortable.

This is the first ocean passage we are making with two additional crew onboard, I am really looking forward to the extra sleep! Our weather forecast looks excellent. The only routing decision I have to make is when to head west and pick up the Gulf Stream. Sometime in the morning I’ll be making that choice.

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Preperations

Leaving Spanish Wells, we sailed back to the southern end of Eleuthera where we are meeting friends who are going to be our crew for our trip North.

Our initial plan was to take two or three days for the move south, but the weather gods were smiling, and we had a very fast single day sail all the way back to Rock Sound, a trip that took us a more leisurely four days, and three nights at anchor on the way north.

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Rock Sound’s Ocean Hole

At Rock Sound we took a chance to explore a bit on shore.  One of the local attractions is a blue hole just east of town.  Named the “Ocean Hole” it is a collapsed cave that somewhere deep under the island connects to the ocean. It is full of salt water, and a large number of fish.  It is not clear if the fish find their own way in, or if they are planted by local fishermen. In any event, the locals treat the Ocean Hole as the equivalent of a public aquarium and stop by to feed their “pet” fish.

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The mostly tame “wet pets” of rock Sound’s Ocean Hole.

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Annie (left) and Alicia; Harmonie’s pick-up crew for the trip north.

We met Alicia and Annie, and some of their friends and co-workers, at Frigate’s Restaurant in Rock Sound for dinner.  A great place to eat, just remember to bring the bug spray if you are going to be there around sunset! Alicia and Annie will be joining Harmonie for our sail north to the East Coast of the USA in just a few days.

I have known Alicia since my early days of teaching sailing in San Francisco Bay.  We are looking forward to an extended ocean passage with more hands than just Karen and I onboard to share the load!

Alicia had a few extra days, so she joined us for a sail over to Cat Island, and a chance at deep-sea fishing on the way.  We re-stocked the freezer with a nice Mahi-mahi, and a Wahoo.

 

Where ever there are fishing boats, there will be predatory fish looking for an easy handout.  In the anchorage at Cat Island our begging friend was a medium-sized barracuda who made short work of the scraps from the mahi-mahi.

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Alicia and the barracuda keep eyes on each other.

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Crossing the shallow reeef strewn waters of Cat Island Bight, our new crew has bow lookout duties fully under control.

Back at the southern end of Eleuthera, we are taking advantage of a promotion offered by the Bahamian government: Reserve 3 nights in a marina, get a $300 credit on your bill.  We’ll be staying three nights at Cape Eleuthera Marina, and our net bill will be: $57.  Can’t beat that with a stick!

The marina is delightful, well run, and clean with a slowly developing resort around it.  It mostly caters to fishing boats.  With any marina in the tropics where a lot of fish cleaning is going on, you might want to pay careful attention to the “No Swimming” signs.

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The marina reception committee checking to see if we had any fish scraps left over from a successful fishing trip.  They might be normally friendly, unagressive, nurse sharks, but still…

We are almost ready for our trip north.  Alicia and Annie have work schedules to consider, so that will have some influence on where we touch land first to get them home in time for work. Depending on the weather, it looks like our port of entry will be somewhere from Norfolk, VA, to Boston, MA.

 

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Around Spanish Wells

When we first came into the narrow channel that is what passes for a harbor on Spanish Wells, we were greeted by the local fishing fleet.  Virtually all the boats are in port right now because they specialize in deep water lobster, and the season is closed until August.

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As a whole, this has impressed me as about the neatest, cleanest, best maintained fishing fleet I have seen anywhere.  There is not a rust bucket among them. They take pride in their boats and it shows.

Spanish Wells itself has a very different flavor than any of the other Bahama islands we have been on.  Much of this area was originally settled by Loyalists who left what was going to become the US after the British pulled out.  It was always a fishing area, so never had a population of slaves.  The local speech cadence has more in common with northern England and Scotland than the island Creole of the rest of the Bahamas.  Overall a prosperous and pretty place.

Giving new meaning to the term “railroad crossing,” this is one of the fishing fleet hauled out for painting using the local marine railway.

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The road with the removable single lane bridge over the railway is the main street on the island.

If you use Google to suggest things to do on Spanish Wells, you’ll get a good flavor for this island when you see that six of the top ten things to do are:  Fishing.

We stayed at a delightful small marina, Spanish Wells Yacht Haven.  Surprisingly, much of their business is boats coming over from Florida for the weekend.  They were packed on Saturday, and almost empty by Tuesday.  A good restaurant, and a small collection of rental cottages completed the campus. We did get to see some nice boats…

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This is Freedom out of Newport, RI:  102 feet of fresh, shiny varnish and polished brass.  They don’t build them like that anymore! Apparently a regular visitor at the marina.

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Downtown Spanish Wells

Grocery shopping was productive, once you knew that the ship with the supplies from Nassau arrives on Tuesday morning, and fresh produce hits the shelves at 3:30 that afternoon.  Prices vary from cheap to insanely expensive, depending on what arrives in what quantity.  The week we were there, the distributor in Nassau had a surplus of tomatoes.  So they put a bunch extra on the boat to Spanish Wells, and suddenly tomatoes are cheap!

We took a side trip to Harbor Island.  There is a water route up and over the northern tip of Eleuthera that has been given the dangerously evocative name,  “The Devil’s Backbone.” Although deep enough to take Harmonie there, the guide book suggests anyone who doesn’t pick up a local pilot to make the trip sort of deserves what they get, so we took local transport.  A slow ferry over to Eleuthera, a taxi ride across the island, and then another ferry over to Harbor Island.

The locals all had about the same assessment of Harbor Island, “Pretty, but very expensive.”  And that about sums it up.  After a delicious, but very expensive, lunch we asked the young guy at the counter what there was to do on the island.  His answer, “Eat, drink, go to the beach.  It’s a nice island, but very expensive.”  There is a theme here…

Since we had already eaten, and it was far to early in the afternoon for any serious drinking, we hiked to the beach.  A nice beach it is, but…  it has people!  And beach chairs!  And really fancy resorts! We have gotten a bit spoiled with having beaches at least as pretty, all to ourselves.

With rain threatening, we hiked back to the commercial side of the island, and Karen did some shopping in some very gentrified stores.  Honestly, the customers and clerks called each other, “Daahrling!”  I was, shall we say, not in my element.

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Catching up…

The weather for the past several days has been rather unsettled. Periodically windy (25 knots) periodically rainy–sometimes VERY heavy rain.  I have a bit of catching up to do with our adventures…

We did get a chance to do some fun snorkeling at Palmetto Bay.  It is an area with dense swarms of fish, but in the interior lagoon the coral growth is limited to a small election of gorgonians, and the ubiquitous fire coral.  The small cays had populations of the largest blue tangs I have ever seen, and a fair number of snapper and grouper.  The snapper and grouper have obviously been targeted by spearfishers, as soon as you get close, they dart into the nearest hole in the rock.

We took our time heading north, with a final destination of the island of Spanish Wells.  A large settlement where we knew we could replenish our provision lockers, which were getting a bit hollow after three weeks away from stores.

P5020083We sailed for a few hours each day, and anchored in the most protected spot we couple find overnight. The sailing was really fast, with the wind on our quarter, and blowing hard.  How fast?  Karen insisted that we grab a photo of our instrument display…

On a sailboat, 9 knots (10 miles per hour for you landlubbers) is really quite fast.  It always amazes me how effortlessly Harmonie moves even when she is galloping along.  To give you a feel for this, Harmonie’s 74 horsepower engine, at full throttle, moves her along at 8 knots.  To push that up to over 9 knots, the sails are generating well over 100 horsepower.

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The final approach to Current Cut with heavy rain on the other side.

One of our challenges on this trip was the passage between the western most extension of Eleuthera, and Current Island, a narrow passage called Current Cut.  We managed to time our approach just right, so we did not have to deal with the raging tidal currents from which it gets its name, but it was still a very narrow passage with an approach characterized by shifting sand bars.

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Shallow over there… deep here.

The gusty winds and scattered downpours that greatly reduced visibility didn’t help.  It turned out to be an interesting, but uneventful passage.

Our final stop before the “big city” was one of the few harbors here with all round protection, Royal Island Harbor.  An island with no current signs of human activity, but prominent ruins.  We stayed in this harbor for two nights while the weather varied from calm to furious.

With a forecast for continued unsettled weather, we decided to take a marina slip to do our sightseeing and provisioning here.  Our initial impressions of Spanish Wells are very positive.  Stay tuned for more information!


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It really is a thing…

Honest.  You can Google it…

Fisherman’s Elbow.  It is basically the same as tennis elbow:  A repetitive motion injury of a particular tendon.  But I have it, and it is highly annoying.

In my case, it is either caused by, or exacerbated by, cranking a fishing reel.  If we are doing deep drop fishing, I do a LOT of cranking to recover close to 1000 feet of line.  If we are trolling, and catching fish, the recovery of the hooked fish is harder work. The problem is that so many tasks on the boat require the tight grip and pulling that irritate the body parts that are already inflamed.  Sigh. It looks like one of those things that heal very slowly…

We are anchored off of Palmetto Point on the west coast of Eleuthera.  Another one of the beautiful places.  There are a LOT of birds here, more than we have seen in other places in the Bahamas.  Franklins Gulls, Laughing Gulls, Oyster Catchers, Ospreys, several kinds of Doves, Caspian Terns, Kingfishers, Swallows, Coots, Mockingbirds, hummingbirds, and more…

On the sand flats here we saw a lot of lemon sharks cruising the shallows:

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Half a dozen sharks on patrol.

I also managed to spot several schools of bonefish.  Usually very skittish, these seemed OK with the boat drifting within five or ten yards… an easy cast….

Karen had a productive day shell gathering and exploring the beach of Pau Pau Cove.

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We’ll hopefully get a chance to do some snorkeling around the small cays tomorrow, and then we’ll head further north toward the more settled end of the island.

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Here it comes!

Some pictures from the southern end of Eleuthera:

 

 

Yesterday we left the beautiful pink sand beaches at East Point and we sailed around the southern end of Eleuthera, and north along its western facing coast.  A large shallow bank extends from here all the way to Nassau 65 miles to the east.  As usual, it was a delightful sail.

Since we were expecting some changeable weather, my initial choice was to head to Governors Harbor, one of the few places on this shore with good protection from most directions.  The cruising guide warned me off that, however suggesting that the anchor holding in the harbor was very poor.  So we grabbed something a bit more exposed,  but with deep sand for good holding, and we tucked as far back behind some small islands as we could.

Most of last night it stormed.  Strong winds, lots of lightening, and torrential rains.  Loud, and dramatic, but nothing scary.  By morning the weather had moderated, and we were down to some isolated showers.  We expected a breezy day, so our plans were basically to relax on the boat and wait to explore ashore tomorrow.

A bit after noon Karen was sitting topside and noticed the line of dark clouds approaching. The VERY dark clouds.  Not much later, we could see the approaching wall of rain and sea spray rapidly charging across the bay.  In less than a minute, it went from nearly calm to winds as strong as we have ever seen from the boat.  Neither of us had time to look at the wind speed gauge, but certainly over 45 knots.  With the first ferocious gusts, the boat slide about 50 feet back on the anchor, before it dug down deeper and we stopped.  We quickly ran into our anchor drag drill, but it turned out to not be needed.

Like many weather system of this sort, this one blew itself out pretty quickly, and left the outside of the boat well rinsed and the remainder of the day was beautiful.

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After the storm…

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Boarded!

We sailed out of Rock Sound this morning, for the deeper water just south of Eleuthera.  Once you get to the ocean, deep water is not far offshore.  I mean water is 2000 feet deep less than a half mile from shore.

We set our trolling lines about 10:30 or so.  We shared this part of the ocean with two other big sportfishing boats.  The targets for the boats fishing here are Mahi-mahi, Wahoo, Sailfish, and–if you are really lucky–marlin.

We saw one fish caught from one of the other boats, and then we spotted some frigate birds circling.  Around here, frigate birds follow the mahi.  The birds rely on the large predatory fish to chase the flying fish until they take to the air, where the frigate birds can pick they off on the wing.  (For some amazing video of this happening: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bk7McNUjWgw)

Sure enough, as we came by the area the birds were cruising, we hooked and landed a pair of mahi.  They are always welcome to come for dinner!  (I have pictures… but our internet connection here is not quite up to the upload…)

We traveled on to a delightful anchorage at the very southern tip of Eleuthera.  Just as we were getting into the dinghy to explore the beach, a large official looking boat hove to offshore, and a large RIB detaches itself and heads in our direction.  As it comes closer, we see the RBDF (Royal Bahamas Defense Force) logo prominently display on the side, and a crew of half a dozen smartly uniformed, and armed, young men.

They have a few questions, and politely ask if they can have a look around our boat.  A brief check of our cruising permit and passports, a cursory look around the interior of the boat, and they are off.  They were friendly, professional, and polite.

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