Rock Sound, Eleuthera to George Town, Great Exuma

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Sun 24 Jan 2016 15:47
Rock Sound Eleuthera 24:52.28N  076:09.90
Rock Sound is another good place to sit out bad weather. Also to catch up with more friends who seemed to have been there for ages waiting for weather to cross to the Exumas and points further south. It’s a sizeable anchorage which is why it has the word Sound in its name. It’s three miles by one mile with protection from all sides if you don’t mind moving around with the wind direction. There’s certainly plenty of room for dragging your anchor if you suffer from that particular malady from time to time. If the weather is more settled there are one or two blue holes to explore in the locality including a sixteen metre deep hole a short distance from the anchorage. There’s a good supermarket a short walk from the dinghy dock along with fuel, water and propane should you need it.
This time the bad weather we experienced was spread over four days. It blew hard from the south and west - not a direction the Bahamas is hit from that often for such a length of time. The main problem, especially in the Exuma chain, is a dearth of protection from the west. Usually we experience a very brief spell of westerlies in a frontal passage.  But recently lows have been forming in the Gulf of Mexico resulting in sustained south to west winds in excess of gale force. This is no joke and certainly lacking in the fun and games department.
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Here it comes.............................batten down the hatches and hope the anchor holds
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.....................then fill the tanks with fresh rain water!
Once this particular system cleared through we had a mere three days to escape southwards where generally the lows are marginally less potent. Last Wednesday 19th most of the anchored fleet left before the next system was due from the Gulf, which is the one now causing chaos in the USA. We scattered in various directions according to individual plans. The winds were forecast to be twenty knots with gusts to twenty five knots from the north, gradually clocking into the North north east and then north east.
We decided to run for George Town just under one hundred miles away at the bottom of Exuma Sound.  All we can positively say about the trip was that it got the job done. It was not pleasant for one minute. There were a hundred places each of us could imagine being that would have been more tolerable – including a cold stone floor in a dungeon around the time of the Spanish Inquisition. We certainly would have preferred to be onboard the cruise ship ‘Emerald Princess’ that overtook us heading southwards to Cockburn Town just as the sun began to set (our favourite time of day – not). We could imagine the few thousand souls onboard looking out of windows in the various restaurants with comments like ‘Good Lord! Look at that little boat out in these horrible seas – oh! yes another tiny sliver of smoked salmon would be simply delightful darling’. Meanwhile the ‘Admiral’ was staggering out into the cockpit clutching two bowls of ‘Pasta Sides’ mix augmented with a tin of sweet corn served in deep melamine bowls and passing one to ‘Skip’ hanging on to the helm as we were hurled across another steep wave. (Of course, in hindsight a sail across to the nearest Exuma island then a sail down the bank side almost to George Town would have been far less stressful on the boat and us but we all know that hindsight will never be reality so no point on dwelling on a decision made).
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The ‘Emerald Princess’ and Eleutheras answer to ‘The Needles’  - (Rough seas always look calmer in photos – why?!)
The wind was more twenty five than twenty all the way. We thought about putting into Cat Island to burn off a few hours but opted to just keep going. The wind was forecast to have a little more east in its direction and reduce overnight which would provide an easy run into George Town. Actually, the wind wasn’t really the main issue, it was the sea state, especially in the area where Eleuthera ends and Little San Salvador/Cat Island begins. What with tidal movements and the swell from further north entering the narrow area known as The Bridge the seas were really nasty, steep and confused. This was no great surprise. Sooner or later heading southwards the large swells would have caught up with us.  Also, sea state-wise there is a gulf of difference between twenty knots and twenty five gusting thirty at times. Life on board was interesting and going to the head a challenge. We did however run out two fishing lines just in case.
One other self inflicted issue on the good ship Ajaya was that with around one hundred miles to George Town we didn’t feel inclined to enter the harbour in the dark despite having a couple of computer tracks in and out from 2014. Leaving mid morning from Rock Sound with an expectation of easily six to seven knots on passage in those winds meant weaving through the reefs at the wrong time – or shall we say not at the best time! Leaving later, say mid afternoon, didn’t appeal. The longer one sits safely at anchor during the day the more it has a negative affect on the mindset to haul anchor and fight your way across the banks and out into the Exuma Sound as the sun is saying goodbye for the day. It’s a real head game. The result of leaving earlier was to have to sail under a much smaller sail plan to keep the speed at a point to achieve the daylight arrival. This increased the amount of purgatory we put ourselves through. Over canvassed is bad in heavy weather but so is under canvassed at times as the boat sails at a speed where every overtaking wave is fought with rather than ridden over.
Such was the discomfort (but would add – we were at no time in danger) that ‘Skip’ decided to retrieve the fishing lines early, on account that fighting to pull in a fish in that sea state would not have been much fun. The problem now was that the port side line had a large fish on. How long it had been fighting to free itself we have no idea but it was certainly still there. We pulled in about twenty metres but ‘Skip’ decided he was not comfortable on the aft deck in such a difficult sea with such an active Mahi Mahi.  He opted to leave the line out and hope the fish would tire, raise the white flag and be easily retrieved. But Mahi don’t tire easily and don’t carry white flags under any circumstances especially this one which was now spectacularly jumping out of the water, twisting every which way to rid itself of the hook, which it finally did.  So we lost our first fish of the season to add to a rotten day on the water.
As the wind gradually moved everso slowly into the north east and eased in strength the sea state became more tolerable and we shaped our final course for George Town. Just to add insult to injury it became clear that we had just not sailed slowly enough to make the entrance in daylight. We didn’t fancy heaving to for several hours at this stage especially given our previous tracks in and out so we continued on. With the ‘Admiral’ on one navigation computer and ‘Skip’ at the helm plotter we made an easy entrance to George Town just as the sun was beginning to peak above the horizon.
Lordy lord, it’s good to be in George Town (but not for too long we hope!!!!!)
                                                                                                                             Moonrise safely anchored in George Town
NOTE: The weather this season in the Bahamas has been particularly unusual.  We’ve certainly not experienced long periods of such strong winds, squalls and even thunder storms at this time of year. This has made it particularly difficult for cruisers to travel through the islands. Several people have their own theories but the top contenders are a Super El Nino (third El Nino year running) and Global Warming.  The number of cruising boats is noticeably less than previous years. Is this the weather or the newly introduced VAT in the Bahamas?! It remains to be seen.