Racing to the Abaco

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Wed 15 Mar 2017 17:14
Man-O-War Cay, Abaco 26:35.71N, 077:00.42W
We’ve hardly stopped for breath this last week. The windy weather relented long enough for us to head 50 miles north from Black Point in the Exumas. With the exception of a rest up last Sunday we moved every day, much of it (unbelievably) under sail with no noisy engines running in the background. A moderate southeast breeze was all we could have dared pray for. And we made the most of it. But all good things come to an end. Yet another weather event unfolded in the forecast that would cause mariners at sea to run for shelter and landlubbers on the USA East Coast to grab their snow shovels. A winter storm of major proportions was percolating off the east coast and was forecast to be so strong that the Hurricane Hunter aircraft were sent to investigate how serious the system would become.  It was serious enough apparently for the authorities to shut down the Chesapeake Bay to anything smaller than umpteen thousand tons. So pretty serious then. The storm would be way to the north of us but the frontal troughs associated with the system would impact the Bahamas meaning that being anywhere at sea in a small craft was not an option for the time being.
Having travelled quickly through the northern Exumas we then had to burn some diesel to head across the banks to Royal Island. This is a 40 mile trip we almost enjoy motoring through as the underwater reef scenery and the incredible colours of the banks water in contrast with the sky is something to behold when it is calm. We even had a couple of dolphins (mother and baby) drop by although they didn’t want to play and set off in the opposite direction.
m_20170311_101441 m_20170311_101142
Pushing our way through flat calm clear blue banks water – depth around 15 feet
m_20170311_101657 m_20170311_101243
The sea bed is spotted with various life forms, star fish, plants and isolated coral growth
m_20170311_101823 m_20170311_101905
A dessert of blue – sometimes only the cloud line differentiates between sea and sky
m_20170311_103852 m_20170311_103927
With the cloud reflected on the water ahead we went through an area of ‘fish melts’ a phenomena where the water is cloudy and pure blue in bright sunlight
m_20170311_121358 m_20170311_121412
At the end of the banks we encountered an out-bound fishing boat with it’s 3 workboats in tow
With the Abaco as our next foothold on the long trip back to the States and with the storm system revving up to the north we needed to make the 60 mile dash north from Royal Island last Monday or there wouldn’t be another opportunity for a week. Unfortunately on this occasion although we did have a south easterly breeze it was nowhere near strong enough to power us along at the required speed and although the breeze was from a kind direction the existing ocean swell was not. This made for a grim motoring trip with both engines droning away for over 12 hours as we rode up and over 2 metre swells. To rub salt into the wounds, or should that be salt water, we hooked and lost two large fish.  One cleanly bit through the 100 lb breaking strain line like a knife through butter (did we want that one anyway?) and the second took the triple hook and split ring from a shiny spoon that had not attracted one fish all season. We would have arrived fish-less in the Abaco if it hadn’t been for the nice folks on Toucan, obviously much more successful fish catchers than us, who hooked a huge Snapper before arriving in Royal Island on the Sunday. Bless them, they gave us a nice fillet.
The final miles from Little Harbour cut to Man-O-War Cay were quickly ticked off as the sun was beginning to settle into an unhappy sky. By now we had a rising south south east wind, tide and still both engines all working in our favour. Seven plus knots was constantly observed on the log. The entrance to the harbour is interesting at the best of times being narrow and rocky on both sides with protruding underwater ledges. We usually enter and exit in good daylight to get the best positioning but in twilight with no lights to assist it was a little challenging although we did have some tracks laid down on our electronic charting from previous visits. ‘Skip’ told the ‘Admiral’ he just shut his eyes and waited for the bang when asked which of the two navigation screens he was viewing at the entrance. Having booked the mooring ball in advance we knew where to head and luckily managed to secure without incident. Which was good as we had plenty of spectators on surrounding boats anxious that someone was attempting this manoeuvre so late in the day and may have ended up cannoning round the mooring field!
So we have a few days R & R to look forward to. We have friends to catch up with in the vicinity should the wind drop sufficiently for us to escape from this nice protected mooring. Oh! and that nice fillet of Snapper to devour! Life’s not so bad after all.