NASSAU TO CLARENCE TOWN, LONG ISLAND, AND THE CREW JUMPS SHIP
Tuesday, 23 December 2014 XMAS EVE EVE.cold front WED, SE’ly! (ON THE NOSE) Might have to replan
Later, up on deck and this boatload of folk in Carefree’s dinghy drone past, with a cheery wave. Must have been five in there, locals by the look of them. Half hour after that, the Skipper – Doug – stops by for a chat. Really nice bloke.
After dark I take the extremely smelly conch meat up on deck all chopped up and start donating it to the fish, hoping one of them will get himself into a feeding frenzy and have a go at the hook on the fishing rod. None did of course, although I’m sure I felt something once? Well at least its not stinking my fridge out anymore – which was cleaned out yesterday.
Wednesday 24 December XMAS EVE.
BIG BRO STU THE CREW ARRIVES FROM CANADA
Bus out to Nassau International, miss spotting the turning so the bus driver turns back for me…’you should have SAID SOMETHING’!! But was not amused, ignoring my claimed ignorance. With time to spare, I did some wifi work, setting up my crewsearch website again in the feeble hope of finding come crew after Stu goes.
Stu arrived on time and, not wishing to risk the bus back, we climbed into a taxi, $25. I argued for $20 of course.. But the driver turned out to be a good sort, and once Stu starting giving him his fluent Haitian French patois, became our island guide as well. He had also spent time in Haiti. Once more I witnessed the power of being able to speak the local language..
With not a lot of sleep in the last 48 hrs I let Stu settle in – now an old hand with Pinball – and had a think about the weather. It was good to see my adventurous and quite fearless brother again, and have company for once.
Thursday 25 December 2015 XMAS DAY. NASSAU TO SHROUD CAY
With a SE’ly wind at 16 kts, we upped anchor at 0800 and set off eastwards out of the narrow channel of Nassau Harbour and onto The Bahama Bank again, peering ahead against the sun trying to ‘read the water’. But as I was aiming at what proved to be the wrong GPS waypoint, ie not what I thought it was, we ended up zigzagging back to pick up this ‘route’, crossing goodness knows what in the process. Not a good start Northy.
I had intended getting fuelled up, and more water at the dock just 100yds behind us, but had failed to factor in that it was XMAS DAY, DUMMY. So we left without either, having at least topped up the fuel from cans. The water we would just have to be frugal with..and Stu is brilliant at frugality. So it was sea water for washing up, and hand washing. No problem.
Our course was directly into wind, so it was a motoring day in brilliant sunshine, but with only five days effectively before Stu was due to jump on a plane from Long Island back to Nassau – booked at the airport on arrival – we couldn’t waste a day waiting for the perfect wind. You can spend a fortnight doing that.
By midday we were approaching the coral heads of ‘YELLOW BANK’, apparently not difficult to avoid. Hit one and we would be in trouble, so Stu took up position on the bow, now with good visibility of the sea ahead with a high sun, and I stood behind the mast holding the Raymarine autopilot controller on its long wire, braced to react. Sure enough, after passing lots of heads so numerous we could not have avoided them anyway, Stu calls out ‘BLACK PATCH DEAD AHEAD’, followed by my furious stabbing at the autopilot controller. Just in time, Pinball turned away and we drove round the ominous black ‘thing’. After that, at Stu’s suggestion, we slowed down! This occurred several more times until the depth increased back up to 5-6 metres, and the blackhead threat receded.
An hour later we had visitors – three big lively dolphin, carousing in the bow wave. Stu, still in the bow, had his video camera out, and I got a good minute of video too. Stu wasn’t so lucky. He decided afterwards that it is better to take the lens cap off. Not long after, happily whilst both of us were chatting in the cockpit, the dinghy decided to make a break for freedom and slipped its painter, clearly unhappy at being towed all day. So we had a practise ‘man overboard’ and recovered same. Good job we weren’t videoing dolphin! Or looking for blackheads for that matter.
The afternoon, still in brilliant sunshine, brought an easing of the headwind veering southerly to just 5 knots, and a delightful flat calm sea, more speed less fuel! Skipper likes that. We arrived at the ominously named and remote anchorage of Shroud Cay just in time to say goodnight to the sun. Part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park, moorings are provided, and no fishing allowed. There was one other boat already enjoying a sundowner, and we provided the entertainment by missing the first buoy. Stu had it but lost it, and the reason became obvious when I went up to help at the second attempt; the ‘pick up’ line was a massive six inch thick lump of hemp weighing far more than one boathook could cope with. We did it with two boathooks..just. You could happily moor the Queen Elizabeth here. There then followed one of the best bits of cruising; a meal, a chat and a sleep. And not just an ordinary meal either, roast chicken mash and veggies! Well it was Xmas Day.
It occurred to me that on the very same day two years back, Stu and I had set sail from Trinidad for Bequia and St Lucia.
Logged at 46nm, anchor to anchor.
Friday 26 December BOXING DAY SHROUD CAY TO BLACK POINT
Overnight the wind backed SE Force 3-4, allowing a sail south in the right direction, if not directly to the destination of Black Point. Following the line of stringy islands that are the Exuma Cays, still on the shallow but protected Bahama Bank, our course gradually but remorselessly led closer to the wind – which was slowly dying away as well, so by midday it was flash the Yanmar up time and take a direct course SE. Reluctant as always to hurry, let alone rush, whilst on The Bank it is also important to arrive in good light and not with the sun in your eyes either, in order to visually pilot the boat onto the anchorage, ie see the coral head before it gets you!
Well, we didn’t. But in defence, I have been there before and know it to be a delightful sandy anchorage, if rather shallow in places. Dusting the barnacles off on sand I can live with.. Which was just as well, as it was dusk on arrival at Black Point, only to be hailed on VHF 16 by Craig and Christa on SIMUNYE!
‘HEY PINBALL WIZARD THIS IS SIMUNYE. I SEE YOU CAN SEE US!’
This was a little surprising as we were heading blindly into the middle of a dozen cruisers at anchor,
‘NOPE. NOT VISUAL SIMUNYE’. Apparently Christa was jumping up and down waving.. Without an actual steer from them, we managed anyway. Later, in the dark, the unmistakable sound of their spirited if well worn inherited 2HP outboard brought them aboard for an hour to share their experiences – already worthy of a book! In short, they had departed Florida without clearing out with Customs on the strength of a couple of phone calls to them, and being advised that that was ok. It wasn’t. I too had had ‘bad’ advice from a Customs Officer on the phone, and received a right rollocking when I DID go and warn out, as described earlier, and very nearly a ban on further cruising licences being issued. The meticulous Christa had, though, done the next best thing and posted various document copies to US Customs on arrival in Bahamas. That was not the worst of their travails. The crossing of the Gulf Stream from Fort Lauderdale had clearly proved daunting and traumatic for this inexperienced couple, with green water in the cockpit, and a very sick Christa, whilst Steve - their imperturbable mentor – had gone below for a rest. Sounds like conditions had not been right for a crossing.
Saturday 27 December BLACK POINT TO CLARENCE TOWN, LONG ISLAND.
Black Point is a wonderful place to stop, with several small restaurants, a shop, and FREE WATER on tap in the street! Plus a delightfully laid back bunch of locals. So it was with a touch of regret that Pinball Wizard hauled up the Rocna at midday and headed for a high tide departure out of DOTHUM CUT, off The Bank, and into the Atlantic. Well it should have been midday, but was more like 1330. The thing is about these ‘Cuts’ or inlets between the Exuma Cays, they are the drainpipes for the whole vast Bahama Bank. Small, narrow and quite shallow, huge quantities of water force their way in and out according to the tides. That’s why we should have been their earlier. My calculations on when high tide would be proved incorrect. Perhaps not by much, but enough to be going out with a strong flowing tide which was running against a moderate wind coming in. Here we come to a well known fact:
WIND AGAINST = TROUBLE.
As soon as we rounded Black Point we could see white water at the entrance, and I said to Stu, ‘hope that’s just the rocks causing that’.
It wasn’t. The tide was going out. It was strong enough to punch a great tongue of boiling chaotic water several hunded yards out to sea, with steep breaking waves crashing from the wind behind them. Strangely we just about stopped moving in the middle of this, when we should have been shooting along, so I gunned the engine achieving a remarkable 3500 revs when normally I could only ever get 2800. This coincided with Pinball arriving at a 6’ wall of water – a standing wave – which heaved the bow way up in the air then crashed into the next one, sending me sprawling into the spray hood, collapsing it. We must have been in an eddy or something as progress was dead slow despite full power, but slowly we edged out of the white water cauldron. On the chart it warned of just this situation of strong ebbing tide against the wind, and recommended remaining outside the tongue of confused water. So that’s what we did. Don’t think I needed telling really.
As usual our intitial course to get round the NW corner of the aptly named Long Island was just south of east – dead into wind – so it looked like another Yanmar day, but by dusk the wind had backed sufficiently to raise some sail, a reefed main and small genoa, which helped put some stability back into PW. But the motion was not pleasant in the short choppy sea, pitching and hobby-horsing, even so. But at least we could save a bit of fuel now, with a reduced throttle.
I took the first watch at 2100, Stu came on at midnight, and woke me a few miles short of ‘the corner’ at the top of Long Island. With a 30 degree turn to the southeast coming up, I had hopes of being on a reach but of course the wind follows the land especially at night, and we were still on a close tack after the turn, in an even stronger wind. Bugger! The seas now, if anything, were worse, with cross-swells, and most unpleasant – just like it had been 2 years before coming the other way with Ali below, feeling bad.
By dawn it was blowing 25-30kts, but the cheering news came on crossing the Tropic of Cancer at 0900 – we were in the Tropics! Well it makes you feel better doesn’t it? Didn’t make the wind go away though. So we were STILL motorsailing just to stay off the ragged coral-reefed 80 mile coastline. By now I was feeling decidedly yucky, and Stu had revisited his breakfast banana. What a waste!
With the wind veering more to the SE a tack was called for to make some sea-room, and by then the seastate had deteriorated to a force 6. The destination – Flying Fish Marina in Clarence Town on the windward coast – was about ¾ of the way down Long Island, and couldn’t come too soon. After 23 hours of it we had both had enough of these nasty confused seas and unhelpful wind, so the entrance channel opening to the north and protected from the east wind was a welcome sight. One of the two buoys supposedly marking the entrance was missing, not unusual in the Bahamas, but by midday we were tied up alongside the fuel dock next to another boat, aluminium and really strong, a fisherman’s from Alaska. He was preparing to head south later that afternoon and wanted to know the conditions outside. ‘Double reefed main’, I told him, ‘and triple reefed genoa’. He nodded in agreement. ‘But that’s just me. I don’t like carrying too much sail’. Taking the hint, he hoisted his main and put a couple of reefs in right there and then.
The marina – an immaculately well kept one – was unmanned on Sundays, which was fine by me, and meant I didn’t pay for that day! But at $2 per foot, ie $70 per day, they still did alright. Stu had to get himself eleven miles up the road first thing on Tuesday to catch the inter-island flight back to Nassau, so went off for a stroll around to see what was what, whilst the Skipper fiddled around with his boat, which is code for chilling out. But although it had been a pretty heavy schedule right from Nassau, we now had a whole day and a half spare to unwind and enjoy the delights of Clarence Town, as well as this excellent marina with good showers, shop, fuel and water, and very own restaurant perched on the edge of the waterfront.
Monday 29th December 2014 CLARENCE TOWN, LONG ISLAND
I really like Clarence Town. There had been, and continued to be considerable investment in developing it. All the buildings were quality and attractive. The marina was excellent. A large development was going up next to the marina, and overlooked the bay on one side and the marina on the other. Clearly, someone was pumping a lot of money into this area. But why? There were a dozen docks for boats, but only three of us now that the Alaskan fisherman had departed. Cruisers heading south tend to skip Long Island, preferring a more northern track from Rum Cay to Crooked Island to Mayaguana. To get them to change that, I don’t think you want to be charging $2 per foot – equivalent to expensive coastal Floridian marinas. I really liked it there, and it was a first class marina, but could not afford to stay long. I would be off on Tuesday too.
But before that we had a walk round, observing a long 8’ wide canal allowing seawater to run up around the back of the mangroves, and for some considerable distance too, then over to the Government Dock where really quite big freighters and ferries come charging in over the shallow waters. Then a swim. Stu was struggling into his facemask whilst I waded out in the brilliant azure waters, only to change my mind and wade back on the pretext of needing to tell Stu about the shark that had just swum past.
‘Stu there’s this really big fish just swam past’.
‘A shark!’ he replied knowingly. ‘I’ve always wanted to come face to face with a shark’.
That’s my brother. And on that, he wades in and swims around the deep dark waters for the next half hour looking for it, whilst I bravely splash around in the shallows looking for shadows. Well, unlike some, I have no desire to become a meal.