Current Location: 25 09.3N 73 04.7W
Distance from San Salvador: 103 NM.
Distance from Culebra: 600NM
Local time: 08:39
Weather: Cloudy, Wind 18E, Seas 5-6 feet

I believe I talked bout how we were going to have a pretty easy trip of it, IF the forecasts were right. Well, the forecasts have been from the beginning, consistent between models, very favorable, and very WRONG.

From the southeast they say. Swinging to the south. Perfect for making your way east. HA! Since we rounded the northern end of San Salvador we have been close hauled sailing hard into a wind within a few degrees of due east. The forecasts keep promising a 90 degree shift, and it just doesn’t happen.

Nothing much else to say! The boat is sailing well in it’s own happy groove. The weather is gray, with scattered squalls. Other than a couple of cargo ships going by, nothing much to see.

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In–and Out–of San Salvador

San Salvador is generally considered to be the island where Columbus first landed in the New World, although there is a never ending dispute about it. It rises with sheer walls out of the deep ocean, the dropoff to water more than a mile deep is within a hundred yards of shore in most places. The wall dives here are among the best in the world, with reef fish and pelagics mixing together. It is the place to come for fisherman who are seriously pursuing large ocean fish, especially Wahoo. Every year there are several 100+ lb monsters caught here.

It is pretty strictly a tourism based economy. Unfortunately, at least right now, the tourists haven’t reappeared. It is off the beaten track for most of the US based sport fishing boats, and without well protected anchorages, cruising boats tend to give it a pass. Right now, other than the commercial diver operators, there are exactly two boats in the marina.

Harmonie feeling a little lonely at the Riding Rock Marina, San Salvador

We came here to refill our provisions for the week long passage coming up, and to clear out the coutry with Customs. Up until recently, clearing out of the Bahamas was optional for pleasure vessels. As a general rule, boat that were going on to countries which expected to see a “zarpe” did so. Boats headed to the USA, which doesn’t really care about outbound clearance documents, typically just skipped the process, and that was fine with the Bahamians, but not anymore.

We have seen too many people posting that they couldn’t find a “convenient” Port of Entry when they wanted to leave, so they just blew off the clearing out process. I’m sure the Bahaminas won’t be hunting them down, but with the new computerized system for keeping track of boats, I’m guessing there might be some uncomfortable questions asked if they return next year.

We walked the half mile or so the the San Salvador International Airport where we presented our paperwork to the customs officer. It looked like we where about the only thing he had to do that day. Fifteen minutes later, with some form filling, and stamping (you HAVE to have your forms stamped!) we were good to go. As far as the Bahama officialdom is concerned we are already gone!

Grocery shopping was unexceptional, a typical “medium island” store.

Our second mast-top repair was completed without drama this afternoon. Karen winched me up to the top of the mainmast, where our replacement MHU (Mast Head Unit) plugged in without an issue. All the bits and pieces were there, and as they should be, including the wire bail that secures the screw lock in place. How and why it could have come apart, will remain one of the mysteries of the universe…

Securing the locking bail on the wind MHU.

We continue to look at a favorable weather forecast that will take us from here to our planned destination of Culebra, Puerto Rico. Right now it looks like 6 days with good winds the whole way.

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The “Thorny Path”

The route due east from Florida to the leeward islands of the Caribbean has long been known to sailors as the “Thorny Path.” The reason is that it is mostly straight into the tradewinds that (more or less) blow straight out of the east. They blow steady and they blow hard. Sailing east in these conditions is NOT fun.

Over the years we have sailed here, we have always tried hard to avoid beating directly into the wind. It might mean waiting a week, or two, (or three!) for favorable winds to appear. But sometimes, the best strategy is to take the beating today, with the hope that you will have a break tomorrow. Yesterday, we took the beating, and stepped up onto to the thorny path.

We left Ragged Island early yesterday morning. The winds were from the southeast (as expected) at 16 to 18 knots. We were close hauled on starboard tack. As expected. The ride was fast, and bouncy, but pretty much as expected. By the middle of the day the winds had increased to a steady 25 knots (NOT as expected!) Now we were sailing fast, and flying off the tops of the large waves. It was… uncomfortable. We managed. The boat managed. The only problem encountered was we tore the top of our mizzen sail. It is old and getting a bit tired, so this wasn’t entirely unexpected. We bundled the sail up, and put it below, and sailed on with just the genoa and main.

We managed to round the southern edge of Long Island on one tack. Now we can at last bear off a bit, and point directly at San Salvador. On a reach like this we are now sailing REALLY fast. Consistently over 10 knots. Since we are not punching straight into the waves anymore, the ride is smoother (mostly). Except… that one wave we sail off the top of, and there is no bottom… we fall into a hole in the water. 18 tons of boat falling down comes to a really fast stop when it finally hits the water. As unpleasant as it is to the humans along for the ride, this isn’t something that is dangerous for the boat, but sometimes some of the parts haven’t gotten that message. When the boat shakes off the salt water and gets moving again, the data from our anemometer is no longer on our display. It is after dark, so we really don’t have any idea what has gone wrong. Not a crisis. We, and generations of sailors before us, have sailed without electronic wind instruments.

We arrived at San Salvador hours earlier than we expected. Rather than trying to find our way into the marina at 2AM we anchored off the beach and waited for sunrise.

Once daylight arrives, we can see the issue. The anemometer at the top of the mast is gone, just completely missing… I am not at all sure exactly how this could have happened…

We pulled into the marina, and it wasn’t long before we had the mizzen sail patched up. I hauled Karen on a quick trip to the top of the mizzen mast to retrieve bits stranded up there when the sail came down. After that success, we got all everything on the mizzen mast put back together.

We have gotten the best look we can from ground level at the top of the mainmast to see what’s going on up there with the anemometer. We have a spare, and it LOOKS like all the connections are just waiting up there for a replacement. Tomorrow will tell, when it is my turn to be hauled up the mast and have a look.

Sooo… why did we beat our brains out getting here? Because there is a cold front dipping down and will be passing here in the next couple of days. We are going to grab the winds from the north, south and west from that weather system and race east as fast as we can. If our weather routing predictions can be believed, we have to opportunity to sail from San Salvador to Puerto Rico without beating at all. I’ll believe it when I see it, but it sure looks good…

The possible alternative routes that our program has predicted for the next leg.
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Enough of this Goofing Off…

Time to get to work.

The next destination for us is a place we have been before, the island of Culibra. Politically, it is part of Puerto Rico (and hence, the USA), geographically it is one of the “Spanish Virgin Islands”. From our current location Culibra is 630 nautical miles to the southeast. There are two complications to this plan.

Complication Number 1: Our destination is over 600 miles to the southeast of where we are. The very steady prevailing winds here are directly from… yes… the southeast. Beating up against that wall is neither fun nor productive. So a bit of strategy is needed.

Complication Number 2: This one is man-made. We have to check out of the Bahamas with Customs and Immigration. It used to be that this could be done at Mayaguana, the island that lay furthest to the east of all the Bahamian islands. That would have been convenient, unfortunately Mayaguana is no longer a Port of Entry, so we will have to make other arrangements.

After considering the relative merits of our choices, we are going to San Salvadore where there is a Port of Entry office at Riding Rock Marina. Today is Tuesday the 12th, the wind is from the east and blowing hard. We’re going to give it an extra day to die down a bit, and leave here for the 24 hour trip to San Salvadore on Thursday. Hopefully we will be able to get some provisions and a fuel top-off before heading out again.

What looks to a landlubber (or for that matter a stinkpotter(*)) like a long and circuitous route, is for us on a sailboat the best we can arrange. Two days after we arrive in San Salvadore, the southern edge of a cold front will pass by, the wind will swing first to the south, and then around to the north. This will allow us to sail more or less due east for several days. As we once again get into winds from out of the east, we will have made enough easting that we will have an easy and comfortable ride into our destination.

Or at least that’s the plan…

(*)Stinkpotter: A person who drives a stinkpot, AKA a motorboat.

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Boat Cooking

Cooking on a boat is just like cooking at home… except it is not.

Space is very limited. Storage space for dry goods, Cold storage, Stove top, and Oven space are all at a premium. If you are cruising to remote places, or for long distances you need to plan your provisioning carefully. You might be many weeks between visits to anything resembling the kind of supermarket you are used to. When in remote places ingredients might be very different that you are used to. When traveling new and interesting foods should always be part of the fun.

Don’t learn everything the hard way, but rather invest in some of the best books out there to learn what you need to know.

Here are the ones we use all the time. These are books that have dog eared pages and broken bindings, stained with cooking juices.

Cruising Chef Cookbook is my favorite.

It’s not a new book, but this edition has been in print since 2010 and the recipes do not change. I bought my copy when this was the new in print, and it shows its love. It is presented as a “cook book” but it is more than that. There is a lot of information about processes and procedures. Fun stories make browsing the book a delight even without looking for a recipe. If I only could bring one cookbook aboard, this would be it.

Cruising Chef Cookbook is available as a Kindle edition, so you don’t need to reserve shelf space for it. But somehow, I just think this book, more than most, deserves a tangible copy. The only downside of this book is that the editing is a bit rough, and not all the recipes have been proofread as carefully as they should have, but it’s still my favorite!

The Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew is a true classic.

Larry and Lynn Pardy have true pioneers and heroes to several generations of cruisers. This is another book that is way more than just a collection of recipes. The smaller, and the simpler your boat, the more important the advice in this book is to you. Want to know who to stock a boat without a refrigerator for a 3 week long passage? How to keep a cabbage edible for a month? Lynn has the answer!

The Boat Galley is a collection from Carolyn Shearlock’s highly successful blog of the same name.

In this book Carolyn has assembled a collection of simple and straight forward recipes and tis that will be invaluable to anyone new to managing a boat galley. If you do not know her blog, it is also a great resource.

I am sure we missed some great other resources, but these are the ones we keep coming back to.

Some of the products we link to we get a small commission for purchases through our pages, it does not affect your price in any way. We always try to recommend the lost price source we know of, and we never accept payment in return for posting a link.

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The Mighty Conch

If there is one food that comes close to defining the Bahamian cuisine in the mind of most travelers, it it the Queen conch. Conch fritters, “Cracked” (i.e., fried) conch, Conch bisque, Conch salad.

The conch is a very large marine snail that has been a favorite food of people in the islands since long before Columbus arrived. Being snails, they are quite easy to catch since they can not run away. They live on sandy and grassy bottoms from the tide line on down.

The shell is extremely robust. There are very few predators in the ocean that can penetrate the armor of an adult conch. However, given some simple tools, the shell is easily opened by humans. A quick hit with a hammer (or rock!) in the right place opens a hole that a knife can reach in and cut the attachment of the animal to its shell. The shell is then discarded.

Conch shells and cleaning table on West Plana Cay.

In some places, people have been cleaning conch in the same place for a very long time, and the piles of discarded shells pile up. The relative ages of the shells can be seen by the color; pink and brown on the fresh ones, gray and white on the old ones.

How long does an empty conch shell last? Forever. Well, almost. The Bahamas are composed of fossilized coral reefs that grow during periods of high sea level, and then wear down when sea level is lower. Parts of the islands are made of nothing except fossilized conch shells. I am imagining a clever geologist has coined a word for this kind of rock to make his academic thesis more impressive.

Fossil conch shells embedded in rock.

As these rocks erode, the shells are once again released on the beach. Other than color, these million year old shells are basically are indistinguishable from the current crop.

Across many places in the Caribbean and southeastern USA the Queen conch has been fished to near extinction. Even in the Bahamas near any settlement they can be very hard to find, but the Bahamas is fortunate to have a large reservoir of very remote places where conch live and reproduce almost unmolested.

People who only visit the population centers of the Bahamas might suspect that the conch is a creature that naturally not very common. That would not be at all true. On one island we visited recently conch were so common that on any beach you could have picked up conch that had been stranded by the falling tide. Enough for a meal without getting your feet wet.

In water near shore they were literally crowded together.

More than a dozen live conch within an arm’s reach in water a foot deep.

Hopefully, with careful management, the Bahamas can keep these remote places where conch are common as a source for a sustainable fishery in the long run.

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The Outer Out Islands

We continue to slowly make our way down along the Ragged Islands, also known as the Jumemtos, of the Southeastern Bahamas. This stretch of small cays is uninhabited except for transient fisherman who harvest conch, lobster, and grouper from the local waters. Some of the islands have ruins from long ago attempts to pasture animals and harvest salt. These are not easy places to make a living.

Right now we are at Flamingo Cay, and will be here another day or two before moving further south.

Fishing is spectacular. Grouper and snapper are plentiful. Snorkeling is fantastic. Boats are infrequent, but seem to move in groups rapidly through the islands. Which seems odd to us. Why come all the way out here if you are just anchoring overnight before rushing off to the next island?

Sailing is challenging here. The islands are on the edge of the Great Bahama Bank. An area almost the size of New Jersey that is mostly less than 20 feet deep. When the tide rises and falls a huge amount of water roars up onto the bank, and then 6 1/2 hours later, it all pours back out into the ocean. Currents in the cuts between the islands can be ferocious. Care and timing is important.

We will eventually get down to Ragged Island itself, the only currently inhabited permanent settlement in this extended chain. It has a population of about 80 people.

We are enjoying our time unplugged from the torrent of information that is the modern world.

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Everybody talks about it…

The weather, of course!

Much more than most land-based people (you farmers excepted!) we pay a LOT of attention to the weather. The prevailing winds in the the Bahamas are from the east. Sometimes a bit north of east, sometimes a bit south of east. In the winter, a strong cold front can come this far south and swing the wind around to the southwest and northwest for a day or two. That’s basically it.

We had the good fortune to ride south to Georgetown on the tail of the last major cold front with a north wind. But it is getting rather late in the season to count on those any more. Even though there is a powerful cold front moving through the southeast USA over the next few days, it is not forecast to get this far south at all.

That leaves us with a choice… we can either wait, hoping that ONE more cold front will dip this far south and swing the wind, or just suck it up and motor into the wind. Yesterday, we sucked it up and ran the Volvo for 8 hours for our move from Georgetown to Thompson Harbor on Long Island.

Today was a productive day. We managed to finally fill our diesel tanks. We didn’t need much, but we expect to be in places where fuel is difficult to come by for some time. We tried in Georgetown but the fuel station ran out just as we arrived. We also topped off the last of our provisions. Having literally followed the supply boat into the harbor last night, the grocery store was well stocked this afternoon. Then we had a delightful meet up with Mark and Denise from S/V Cara at “Tiny’s Hurricane Hole,” a great beach bar. All in all a good day.

Tomorrow, we are headed further south, into the Ragged Islands. We will likely be off the gird for a week or so as we meander down the mostly uninhabited islands. Exploring, fishing, and shelling will be our priorities. Hopefully, we will have good stories, and photos to report.

I do feel like we are giving Long Island the short shift here. Certainly a lot of people do love it. But we can not stop and linger everywhere, or we get nowhere!

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The Shopping Mecca!

Well… that might be overstating things a tiny bit. But we have migrated to Georgetown on Great Exuma Island, which I think I can say without argument has the best grocery shopping for 150 miles in any direction, at least on Monday and Thursday afternoons after the supply boat arrives.

Our trip down was an unusual delight. With a (mostly) steady wind from the north, we spread our downwind poles and had 1600 square feet of canvas pulling us along straight downwind, making much better time than we expected–so much so we had to do a couple laps outside the harbor waiting for sunrise to light our approach through the shallows.

Right now we were told there are something on the order of 400 (!) boats here, from sub-30 foot pocket cruisers to 180 foot super yachts. Certainly too many for us to casually count. This is a major social gathering place and resupply port for cruisers in the southern Bahamas. Many boats come here for the entire season. For us, it feels very crowded–almost claustrophobic. There are compensations however: Meeting people who are either old, or new friends. And the grocery shopping.

On many of the smaller islands there is nothing that we would recognize as a “grocery store.” Which kind of mystified me for a while. After all, there are people who live there, and they have to eat… The answer is not very complicated. They actually ORDER all their routine groceries to arrive directly to them on the “mail boat,” bypassing any local market.

Just a few (VERY FEW!) of the boats in Georgetown today.

Our shopping here is going to (hopefully!) supply us for a couple weeks, because from here we are going to the most “out” of the “Out Islands.” The Ragged Islands, and the Plana Cays. Mostly uninhabited, and certainly lacking anything that might be even remotely referred to as a “super” market. These are more challenging places, less well charted, less well documented. Very limited harbors of refuge, but lots of opportunity for exploring, shelling, and fishing. Our favorite kinds of places.

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Rock Sound, Eleuthera, Bahamas

Rock Sound near the southern end of the long island of Eleuthera is actually looking up these days. In the Bahamas there seems to be a rule that you never actually remove an old building, you just abandon its and let it collapse. Because of this, it can sometimes be hard to see signs of growth and renewal.

Rock Sound has a new dock for visiting boaters. Way nicer than the typical town dinghy dock, and just dredged out to depths allowing larger boats alongside.

Even the ubiquitous “Government Dock” where the regular supply boats unload looks shiny and new.

There are a few excellent waterfront restaurants that appear prosperous.

But at its heart it is still a small Bahama family island town. People are friendly and helpful. The island version of a Farmer’s Market is a local’s front porch with a posted price list and honor box.

The Bahamas are islands made of porous limestone that have been in and out of the ocean many times over the millennia. That has left the islands almost hollow, riddled by caves. When the roof of a cave collapses and it fills with water is becomes one of the famous “Blue Holes.” We visited one of these that is right here in town on a previous visit.

This time, we went to a dry cave, know to the locals as “Cathedral Cave.” It was surprisingly beautiful. Sunlight beamed through holes in the roof, and tree roots grew down from above to the floor.

Any cave has to have its cave creatures, and this one is no exception. Even before you get all the way into the cave, you notice the homes of the most obvious inhabitants:

Some of the walls are covered in the large, dishevealed webs of spiders. It looks like a classic decoration for Halloween. In many of the online comments about this place people noted the webs, but go on to say, “But there are no spiders.” Well, they just didn’t get close enough to see. Each of those webs has a large round hole, and inside that hole is a very large black spider with a body almost as big as my thumb.

A termite nest had a mud travel tunnel extending more than 50 feet from the roof to the floor of the cave. When a mischievous photographer knocked a hole in the tunnel, the residents quickly swarmed in to repair the damage.

And what would a proper spooky cave be without…

BATS! Clinging to the rook in the very darkest corners of the cave are these small bats. Karen could hear their high pitch chattering, I could not. There are about a dozen species of bats in the Bahamas, I have no idea which these are…

We will likely be hanging here for a few more days. The wind is swinging around to the south, and that is exactly the direction we want to go. Rather than struggle against that, we’ll pause, explore, and enjoy Southern Eleuthera for a bit.

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