Refitting Salty Tails

Before casting off in November for our current cruising season, we spent four months at our marina in Punta Gorda refitting the boat. Four months of nonstop work, from sunup to sundown. We loved every minute of it. Blood, sweat, and tears were shed, but there’s something hugely rewarding in spending our waking hours getting in to the bones of our boat. After this summer, she feels more our home now and we feel that we know every inch of her!

We began the summer with a few cosmetic projects in the cabin. We relished working in the cool AC…the heat of the Florida summer is brutal. Within the first few weeks, we…

-Replaced the cabin sole (floor)
We decided to use a vinyl wood plank floor from Home Depot. Since we wanted something very durable, waterproof, and relatively inexpensive, this served our purpose and looks great.

-Removed all carpet and old wallpaper
We ripped out old carpet that lined the hull sides in storage spaces and painted with a clean white epoxy paint. In the head, vanity, and quarter berth, we updated the wallpaper to something bright and modern.

-Revarnished/painted interior wood
To lighten the interior, nearly every piece of wood was stripped of the old dark varnish. We chose to either varnish with a clear satin finish or paint with gray exterior latex paint.

Projects outside of the boat were done in between daily thunderstorms with lots of breaks for water. Outside, we…

-Waxed hull sides
Troy used the dinghy as a floating dock to maneuver his way around the boat within our slip. This was a pretty quick and easy task, only taking him a day or so.

-Repainted the decks, toe rail, and hatches
This was our most extensive exterior project, taking careful planning and patience with the daily rainstorms. Prep was the most time-consuming part of this project. All 37 feet of the deck, cabin top, and cockpit needed to be sanded and meticulously cleaned before any primer and paint could be rolled on. We must have used 10 rolls of blue painter’s tape taping off corners and edges, separating the white topside paint and blue nonskid Kiwi grip. We painted the aluminum toe rail with a durable, UV resistant bedliner paint. At the end, Troy had paint on every piece of clothing he owns, and I had gotten plenty in my hair, but the boat looked fantastic.

-Replaced all masthead electronics
Because of the lightning strike, everything on top of the mast needed to be replaced. Troy and I took turns being hauled up the mast to work. The VHF antenna, VHF cable (ran down through mast), wind transducer (and rewiring), and LED anchor light all were replaced.

A ton of time during our summer refit was spent working on wiring and electronics. Projects included…

-Installing new sailing/cruising electronics
We added new Raymarine electronics, including Raymarine Axiom 7 chart plotter, Raymarine Quantum radar, Raymarine i60 wind speed/direction, Raymarine i40 depth display, and Standard Horizon VHF radio (with GPS and cockpit RAM mic)

-Installing a new battery monitor
Ours simply failed, so we swapped it out with an updated version (Victron BMV 700). This allows us to monitor our house battery status (intake, state of charge, volts, amp hours remaining)

-Installed LED lighting
We replaced any standard lights with LED bulbs inside the cabin. In the cockpit, Troy installed four LED courtesy lights and added LED lighting to the dinghy davits.

-Overhauled 12V and 120V wiring
Removed 40 years of stray and abandoned wiring. Troy also improved wiring and connections throughout the boat including completely reorganizing wiring behind the main distribution panel and in the engine room. We also replaced our house battery bank with four new 6V house batteries.

Some of our final projects included an overhaul of the diesel cooling system and regular maintenance
-Troy replaced all parts of the cooling system for the diesel: mixing elbow, heat exchanger, fresh water pump, raw water pump, thermostat, and cooling system hoses. We saved a ton of money here when Troy discovered that our Westerbeke diesel is related to a Mitsubishi tractor motor and share many components. He was able to source parts much more affordably this way, rather than having to order directly from Westerbeke. After the cooling system was complete, he cleaned and painted the engine which helps prevent corrosion.

We chose to add a watermaker for this cruising season. We ordered our watermaker from Sea Water Pro. It is a 120V system that produces about 20 gallons per hour. We use a Predator generator to run the watermaker (after doing some math, we figured that we can make 100 gallons of water with one gallon of gas).

Last but not least, we decided on a new dinghy…a Zodiac aluminum hull RIB.

Staniel Cay and Thunderball Grotto

Our sail north from Black Point to Big Majors was easy breezy…with a following sea on a nice beam reach. As we pulled into Big Majors for the second time, we sailed in further to the anchorage before firing up the engine and pulling in the sails. We weaved our way to the front of the anchorage, just north of pig beach. Compared to our first time here, on our way south, now there were fewer boats, especially sailboats. There were still a handful, but the anchorage was occupied predominately by trawlers and mega yachts.
We made our usual trip in to Staniel Cay by dinghy to fill up on water, gas/diesel, and groceries. We made sure to do laundry as well. If I haven’t mentioned before, the laundromat here is also a bar/liquor store. Rather than making trips back and forth to switch laundry from the washer and dryer, we decided to grab a few drinks and stay put.

At the laundromat, we met another cruiser, traveling with her husband and teenage daughter, heading south with their goal being to reach Grenada for hurricane season. They were on the move, making very few stops along the way since they began their journey late in the season. The couple had been sailing for years, once cruising full time about 20 years ago. They had just recently sold their home near Miami, quit their jobs, and decided to cruiser full time again, now with their daughter. We really love meeting and talking with other cruisers. I am always curious to learn each sailor’s story and what inspired them to head out on their journey. Despite meeting people from so many different places, with widely-varying backgrounds and experiences, we all seem to have core similarities: adventurers with a desire to see and experience new places while living a more simple, slower paced life.
We spotted an especially exciting boat in the Big Major anchorage…La Vagabonde! Riley and Elayna’s channel on YouTube was the first vlog we began watching when we became interested in sailing/cruising. They have been a huge source of inspiration and information for us. While still living our “normal lives” we watched their videos weekly. We can, with conviction, say that the glimpse into the sailing life from their vlogs, truly gave us the “we can do this” push! It was wild to see them anchored just a hundred or so yards away from us! Pretty remarkable!

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We did not get a chance to snorkel Thunderball Grotto as we headed south, so we were excited to check out the spot made famous by the James Bond movie. Between Staniel Cay and Big Majors are a group of rock formations. The most western one is Thunderball Grotto. We had heard that it can become crowded with tour boats during the day, so we were relieved when we arrived to see only one other boat. We tossed the dinghy anchor, grabbed the GoPro, and got our masks and fins on. By the time we were ready to hop in, the other boat had left…we would have the grotto to ourselves!8A597BD0347FBAF9A3292807E31EEC22

The entrance to the cave is not obvious, initially. We couldn’t see where to enter until we swam from the boat, right up alongside the rocks. In the narrow, hallway-like entrance, we were entering on a mid-tide and had to swim underwater to get inside. Right away, the area was teeming with fish…it was like having private escorts swimming alongside us through the entrance.

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We popped our heads up to look around once inside. It was a breathtaking sight! The cave’s ceiling stretched high overhead, forming a dome, enclosing us in shade. There is a round, jagged opening in the top, allowing sunlight to shine down and illuminate a portion of the cave. Snorkeling below it, the water is illuminated like a spotlight.
We saw a variety of fish: from yellowtail snapper to angel fish, swimming among colorful coral.

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yellow fish

After swimming the perimeter, admiring the coral, and diving to check out the fish, we looked for the exit. On the opposite side of the cave is a wide opening to exit. Taking a deep breath, we dove down and swam under the rock ledge. We came up for air outside of the cave. Coral and fish surrounded the exterior of the grotto. The strong current allowed us to drift-dive all the way around, back to the dinghy. With nicely pruned fingers, we climbed back in the dinghy and headed back to the boat for hotdogs on the grill, celebrating Memorial Day.

The next day, while we were in town, we ran into some other cruiser friends who invited us to a potluck on the beach. After stopping to pet the nurse sharks at the yacht club, we headed back to the boat. Later, we got quite a laugh as those same cruisers towed a pallet behind their dinghy…they’d be making a new table for cruiser beach (Pirate Beach). Talk about being resourceful!

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That night, I cooked up a giant pot of yellow rice to share at the cruiser’s potluck. We all gathered and shared lots of yummy food and even brought fireworks to celebrate Memorial Day. Once the bugs made their appearance, we headed back to take Ginnie and Bella for a potty run.
Over the next few days, in between rain showers, we relaxed and snorkeled some of the coral heads around Big Majors. We also bathed the dogs on the beach. It had been a while…they needed it!

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Once we were ready to move on, we made our way north, back the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park!

Little Farmers and Black Point Round 2

We arrived back at Little Farmer’s Cay after motor-sailing north from George Town. Seas were fairly calm with extremely light winds…it wasn’t as hot as our trip down, so we were thankful for that.

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After roughly seven hours, we anchored in the same spot as last…strong current, but excellent holding in between Little Farmers Cay and Great Guana Cay, right out in front of Little Farmers Yacht Club. Summer was approaching: we had a few strong squalls over the few days we stayed. Riding out the storms proved extra interesting since current controlled the boat’s direction rather than the wind. When the rain and winds passed through, the cockpit often got soaked because winds came from the sides or behind.
1We heard from other cruisers that there was a population of sea turtles that lived in the harbor of Little Farmers Cay. We decided to scope it out and took our GoPro with us in the dinghy, hoping to get some underwater footage. The day prior, we noticed a handful of dime sized jellyfish passing the boat. On this day, we stumbled upon several huge masses of the jellyfish near the shore. At first, it looked like a bunch of seaweed floating along the top of the water. Upon further inspection, we discovered that we found hundreds of thousands of the little jellyfish floating in the water.

Although the water was only five or so feet deep and crystal clear, there were so many jellyfish in spots that you couldn’t see through to the bottom. And that’s where we found the sea turtles. It was as if we stumbled upon a jellyfish buffet. We didn’t need to enter the harbor to see the turtles, they swam among the jellyfish and coral. We got some great GoPro footage and the turtles didn’t seem to mind our company.


After a few days, we headed back to our second home, aka Black Point! We were excited to head back and had a fun 10 mile trip north under sail. The winds were pretty piped up from the southeast. In about 15 knots of wind with a following sea, we got up to 7.5 knots…with just the headsail! Troy and I shared the helm this trip…I was really starting to feel more comfortable at the helm while under sail.

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And after a few hours, we were approaching Black Point, this time from the south. The winds really picked up, blowing over 20 knots…it felt like we were flying! This time, for two reasons, we could tell the cruising season was coming to an end. First, there were fewer boats than our first time in the anchorage. Many people had probably already headed back to the states. And secondly, the spring/summer weather pattern of thunderstorms was obvious. During our second day, we had another day of scattered showers. Sometimes these showers brought along wind, and others just rain.

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Black Point meant we were going to have a chance to do laundry…with the best view! While doing laundry, we met another couple about our age, Rylie and Allie on SV Generations. We got to talking and became fast friends! We decided to meet up at Scorpio’s (for 2 for 1 rum punches, of course). Cruisers gathered at Scorprio’s, the nightly ritual. After most headed back to their boats, Troy, Rylie, Allie, and myself decided to stay and hang out with the locals. Many rum punches were consumed…along with sharing stories and plenty of dancing. I do not dance in public…but I did that night.

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We decorated a few dollar bills to hang above the bar, leaving our “We’ve been here” mark. We climbed up and stuck them on the ceiling…we’ll definitely check to see if they’re still there next year! That was a pretty late night…even the dogs slept in the next morning.

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Over the next week or so, we hiked the island and snorkeled several places nearby. The reefs and coral heads in the area are healthy and thriving. Most are colorful and teeming with fish and sea life. We spent most of our time snorkeling just outside and south of the Black Point anchorage. These spots aren’t marked on any of our guides, we found them just by dinghying (I may have just made that word up) around and dropping the anchor when we found a spot with a few coral heads. The water is warming up…each day it gets easier and easier to hop in.


When I wrote about Black Point last, I mentioned that our favorite part of Black Point was the people…the feeling has now increased exponentially. From the late nights hanging out at Scorprio’s to the kids climbing the ladders on the dock to the simple daily interactions in the street, the people of Black Point make you feel like you’re at home.
A prime example of their hospitality was when we met Bread Boi, owner of several vacation rental homes. He knew we weren’t ready to leave Black Point, but we had a package to pick up at Staniel Cay, a few islands north. Rather than charging us to rent one of his Boston Whaler skiffs, he let us borrow it for the afternoon! We just had to replace the gas we used. We were blown away by his generosity…and frankly his trust in letting four strangers (Allie and Rylie came with us for a day trip, of course) take his boat.
When we left Black Point in the skiff, the four of us were laughing when the boat jumped up out of the water. The 115hp engine moved the skiff A LOT faster than the four of us had gotten used to in our sailboats. We returned after several hours with our package. My mom had sent us a care package with some things we were missing and couldn’t get here in the Bahamas…protein bars, Crystal Light, 3M boat wax, and the icing on the cake…an XM satellite radio adapter for our stereo.

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We spent a total of over 25 days at Black Point…and we loved every one of them! We made new friends and slowed down, island style. We can’t wait to reach Black Point next year.

French Fries, Sharks, and Piggies, Oh My!

Staniel Cay, our first island outside of the Land and Sea Park, is a bustling settlement with the epicenter being Staniel Cay Yacht Club. We headed south from Cambridge Cay to reprovision: we needed gas, water, and groceries…and planned on treating ourselves to lunch at the yacht club. We decided to anchor on the western side of Big Majors Spot, the cay just northwest of Staniel Cay. Here, rather than be in the be in the path of boats entering the yacht club, we’d be a 10-minute dinghy ride from Staniel Cay. We would be able to resupply and fill up our jerry cans while being anchored in a place that offered several pretty beaches as well as Pig Beach!

We entered the anchorage from the east and settled in the back of the pack: this was the most crowded anchorage we have experienced so far. Cruising boats dominated the anchorage, but there were quite a few large mega yachts off the southern point. Now that we’ve been cruising for a few months, we are beginning to recognize sailboats we have seen along our way south. Several of these familiar “faces” were anchored here as well.
Our first full day was spent doing chores. First up: filling the water cans and gas cans and getting rid of trash. We took the dinghy…full of cans and trash bags over to the yacht club. Our dinghy may not have been a pretty sight, but the views along the way were! The water was crystal clear, we spotted coral heads and several nurse sharks along the way. We paid $0.40 per gallon for water and $7.00 per bag of trash…expensive, but a necessity. The yacht club seems to be a haven for nurse sharks; countless sharks hang around the docks regularly until the fish cleaning station is in use (aka feeding time).

We were just thankful to have full water tanks and be free of trash (nowhere in the Land and Sea Park is there a place to dispose of trash). Diesel and gas were priced as we expected, roughly $5.00 per gallon. Loading and unloading 20 gallons worth or gas/diesel was a sweaty workout!
Next up: laundry, groceries, and propane! Three convenience stores can be found on Staniel Cay: Isles General (conveniently located in a canal with its own dock), the Blue Store, and the Pink Store. We visited all three…you never know what one store may carry and the others may not. All three stores are well-stocked with staples. We loaded up on fresh fruits and veggies at Isles General, along with dropping off one propane tank to be filled. Isles General also has some basic marine supplies and DVD rentals. We found our favorite tortilla chips and other necessities at the Blue and Pink stores. We noticed these stores had more of a variety than Isles General but were a further walk.

The yacht club has a beach just for landing dinghies. This was great: it was free, near the laundromat, and just outside the restaurant (French fries, here we come!). The laundromat on Staniel Cay is clean and in a newer building just a short walk from the yacht club. We hadn’t done laundry since Nassau, so we had two big loads needing to be washed. We paid about $20 for both. Do you know what else is at the laundromat? The liquor store! We restocked our rum supply while our clothes finished up then headed over to the yacht club for lunch.

In preparation for our trip, we ate all meals at home…this would be our first meal out in over six months! We took a seat in the bar area, tucked our clean laundry under our seats, and immediately ordered drinks: Troy had a Kalik (Bahamian beer) and I had a frozen mango daquiri…heaven! Next up: a cheeseburger and fries for Troy and a giant Chef Salad for me. We probably looked like starving sailors; we scarfed our food down, barely speaking. That hit the spot!

That evening, feeling like little piggies, we headed over to the beach on Big Majors Spot to see the famous swimming pigs. After watching tour boat after tour boat unload tourists onto Pig Beach to feed them, we decided the evening would be a safe time to go…my hope was that the pigs would be nice and full and therefore, less pushy. Armed with apple cores, carrots, and other veggie scraps, we climbed out of the dinghy. Most of the bigger pigs lay passed out on the beach, not seeming too interested in us, thankfully.

We noticed a sign on the beach that says: Mama Karma will bite your butt! Hopefully Mama Karma was somewhere sleeping and dreaming of tomorrow’s visitors! One large, wiry, gray-haired pig approached and was surprisingly, very patient. She opened her mouth and waited for food to be dropped down without stepping on my toes.

The baby piglets were our favorite and since they are often pushed out of the way by bigger pigs, we made sure they got a fair helping! The beach was really a sight: pigs lay scattered over the beach sleeping and grunting, roosters peck around at scraps, other pigs find anything they can to rub and scratch their bodies along, and baby piglets hop in and out of their raised wooden pen.

We spent five nights at Big Majors and we had guests under the boat every night. Five large remora called our bottom home. The stayed suctioned to our keel (and had blue paint on their heads to prove it) until I dropped crackers in the water to feed them. Soon, expecting crackers regularly, anytime we’d walk on deck, they’d come out circling and splashing.

The remora took off for a bit on the afternoon we cleaned Salty Tails’ bottom. That’s when we met Stanley! He was another resident who lived in our rudder shaft during our time here. He’d circle our swim ladder before darting back to safety.

That afternoon was the first time we had cleaned the bottom. Even after three months, all that was needed was a light scrubbing; no barnacles and hard growth needed to be removed. I helped for a while, but Troy did the vast majority of the work. Soon, she was nice and clean!
We enjoyed our final night with the dogs on the cruiser’s beach at the northern end of Big Majors. Over time, cruisers have added a swing, picnic table, chairs, and a grill to the beach, for all to use. No one was there that evening, so we enjoyed the sunset with just the four of us.

Exuma Land and Sea Park, Part II

Next up in the Land and Sea Park: Cambridge Cay! Cambridge is the last major cay of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. We set sail southbound and since it was a smooth ride, we decided to investigate a little “problem” we had been experiencing while underway. For the last few sails, our bilge pump would cut on and expel some water. We weren’t sure where the water was getting in, but we had our fingers crossed that it would be a simple fix. Something like that could potentially be a major issue, but since the bilge cut on only while underway and only pumped out a small amount of water, Troy had a hunch that it may be one of a few minor problems. We emptied two of the lazarettes in the cockpit, allowing us to see the hoses to our cockpit floor drains. A small stream of water (imagine a water fountain), came through a pinhole in one hose.

Since water only comes that far up the hose when heeled, it only leaked while underway. YES! We had found our problem…and it was by far the easiest fix. Troy repaired the leak: now the water would stay outside! After reorganizing the cockpit, we enjoyed the rest of our sail to Cambridge Cay.

As we entered the protected anchorage, we were hailed on our VHF radio by the mooring attendants…all the mooring balls were taken, except for a mooring ball meant for vessels up to 150 feet. Since the park operates on a first come, first served basis, we would take it until a standard sized ball became available. This was our first experience with mooring attendants. Chuck and Carmen on SV Soul Mates were cruisers who volunteered to oversee the moorings. During the months of March and April, they lived aboard their catamaran at Cambridge Cay. Chuck and Carmen were incredibly hospitable and made Cambridge Cay feel like a close-knit community! They invited us aboard their boat to tell us all about Cambridge Cay and the places to go nearby.

That afternoon, they arranged a group to ride over to Rocky Dundas, a set of caves across the channel. We immediately agreed to go with the group; how nice it was to travel together with several dinghies, a buddy system. We suited up, grabbed our snorkel gear, and crossed the channel to reach the caves. It was a bit rough that afternoon; many guides suggest visiting Rocky Dundas on a calm day at low-tide. The seven or so boats tied off to the two dinghy moorings outside the caves and bounced around like bumper cars. Thankfully rubber boats don’t leave dents! Chuck described the best approach to the caves: swim under the opening and into the tall cave; quickly get your footing and climb out onto the cave floor. On a calm day, this was fairly easy, but because the afternoon turned out to be quite choppy, we had to have our wits and swimming legs on!

We didn’t expect to see such beautiful coral on our swim over to the cave. An abundance of fish and sea fans swayed with the current; the bright sun made the colors of coral pop.

We headed through the cave opening and popped our heads up once inside. We took off our fins, tossed them onto the cave floor and climbed out before getting knocked over by the waves crashing through the opening.

Once inside, it was really a sight. The cave ceiling stretched high above head and the sun’s rays shone through the opening at the top, illuminating the inside of the cave. The cave floor, although rocky, had been worn smooth by the water over time.

The pounding of the waves echoed inside. In furthest corner of the cave, we wrote our names in the sand for good luck, a tradition we all took part in. After returning to the boats, I climbed in while Troy swam and explored the second cave with others from our group.
A standard sized mooring became available after our first night. This turned out to be good timing because Chuck let us know that a large yacht was arriving hoping to take a mooring. We would be doing a bit of shuffling so that everyone could fit! Before we had a chance to move, the yacht’s tender (an impressive Everglades center console) pulled up to our port side. Graciously offering us a bottle of wine, the crew member thanked us for making room for the approaching yacht. We would have, of course, moved anyway, but we didn’t turn down a nice bottle of wine!
Over the next few days at Cambridge Cay, we met some great people! We enjoyed a sunset and drinks at the sandbar with other cruisers and played games aboard a neighboring boat. We took another group trip to “The Aquarium” and snorkeled a sunken plane. Cambridge Cay turned out to be a great staging point for some of the best snorkeling spots we’ve visited in the Bahamas.
The Aquarium is one of the most popular snorkel locations in the Land and Sea Park. Aptly named, the site is a massive shrub covered rock above the waterline, but below is an impressive coral reef teeming with a variety of fish. After our group hopped in the water, we were immediately greeted by a school of fish…clearly hoping for handouts.

We snorkeled around the wall of coral, spotting trigger fish, lobster, snapper, sea urchin, angelfish, parrotfish, just to name a few.

It had been a couple of weeks since we left Nassau so we were beginning to run low on water and gas for the dinghy. We thanked Carmen and Chuck for their hospitality and let them know that we would be leaving in the morning. A few hours later, we got a call on the radio from the neighbor boat (actually another 150+ foot yacht) letting us know they had a gift for us courtesy of Chuck and Carmen… water and gas!

We enjoyed another few days at Cambridge Cay; this was turning out to be one of our best stops yet! Soon though, we moved on to the first settlement since Nassau: Staniel Cay. We needed to do some resupplying and were going to enjoy our first meal out in six months at the yacht club!

South, South, and North Again

The following Monday, we left Allans Cay and headed to Normans Cay. At just under ten miles and two hours, this would be a quick hop south. Even though the trip was speedy, I was still able to count over 50 colorful starfish along the way (Yes, I kept count)!
We chose to anchor on the western shore of Normans Cay, just south of Skipjack Point. We had good depths here, compared to the shallow depth we anchored in at our last stop. We dropped the anchor in about 15 feet. The water was incredibly calm that day. Although we were open and exposed to nearly everything except the east, the water was flat, we could see straight to the bottom. When we set the anchor, we could see it biting into the sand, as if it were just inches underneath us. After lunch, we hopped in the dinghy and rode to the other side of the island (where many cruising boats chose to anchor). On our trip over, we slowed every so often to observe the stingrays, giant needle fish, and coral heads.

Once inside, around the southern tip, we idled through the anchored cruising boats, over to the sunken airplane (said to be from drug-running days). We hadn’t brought our snorkel gear with us, so we were unable to dive the site, but with the water as clear as it was, we managed to get a good look from inside the dinghy. We headed to the island’s “hurricane hole” next. Norman’s Pond is accessible from the eastern side of the island and is for shallow draft boats only. We considered anchoring inside as we planned this leg, but knowing how shallow the entry was, we weren’t going to chance running aground. We were free to explore by dinghy, however. We entered the “pond” between two large rocks and it became shallow almost immediately. At the current tide, the depth could have been no more than a few feet. Once clearing the shoal just inside, the depths increased as we followed a deeper contour into the pond where depths are reported to be well over ten feet. The pond was more than what we considered a “pond”, it was quite large actually. The water was just as blue as the outside, but opaque and two neat caves rose above the water along one side. We drove around in the dinghy…only one sailboat was inside. We decided that it might be a good spot to escape bad weather, if we could enter at a high tide; but for now, we were happy with our anchorage on the west side of the island.
The next day we headed south to Shroud Cay, the first cay in the Exuma Land and Sea Park. This hop was even shorter at only six miles and under 90 minutes. We arrived fairly early in the day and opted to anchor rather than pick up one of the mooring balls. Since we arrived before midday, many boats had not left from the previous night; we anchored as close to shore as we could, without crowding other boats. We hiked a few trails around Shroud Cay and explored some of the mangrove creeks.

Later that day, we hopped in the dinghy, loaded up the dogs and then tossed the anchor in knee-deep water with drinks in hand so the dogs could play. After Ginnie got her fair share of running around, we headed back for sunset on board. That night was rolly. We didn’t sleep much since the boat didn’t really stop moving. We had protection from only the east and winds had shifted to the southwest, so waves rolled in from that direction.

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We headed back up to Allans Cay that morning to wait for the winds to subside. We learned what it means for Allans Cay to be a “fair weather anchorage”: it was quite different this time than when we were last here. Strong current and swell from the bank rolled through, not always matching the wind. This lead to some interesting moments in the anchorage. Usually, boats point into the wind, so typically all boats point in the same direction. This was not the case now. Because the current moved differently depending on which side of the anchorage one was anchored, boats danced around their anchor, often pointing in different directions. At one point our anchor (which thankfully held secure) was behind us rather than at the bow. The combination of current and swell was uncomfortable. One night, I had to remain holding onto a pot of boiling water so it wouldn’t topple.

Obviously, we took anchor watch shifts. During my shift, I watched Pitch Perfect (singing along quietly so Troy wouldn’t hear me), drank too much coffee, and made mini homemade cherry pies…because, why not? We tried to make the best of the several nights we were there. We hiked around Leaf Cay to a beach on the east side (which was remarkably calm) and climbed rocky hills of Allans Cay to check out the Exuma Bank which was incredibly rough from days of western winds. We decided to stay put until the Bank settled.


Thankfully, it finally did…we were itching to move on!

Exumas, Here We Come!

Exumas Day, Exumas Day! Today was finally the day! We woke up early that morning…mostly from excitement, but Troy would say it was to get out at high tide. We would be crossing the Yellow Bank, a shallow expanse of water between New Providence and the Exumas that is littered with coral heads. Crossing the bank at high tide meant that we would have the most water beneath our keel to avoid the coral. So, with that in mind, we took the dogs out to do their business just as the sun rose and began preparing to depart our slip at Palm Cay Marina. We untied the lines, said good-bye to wi-fi (and the friendly staff, of course), and we were on our way.
We were scheduled to arrive at Allans Cay in under five hours; the trip was just shy of 30 miles. For our first time crossing an area with known large coral heads, we weren’t taking any chances. More than likely, we’d be fine since our boat has a shallow draft and we were crossing at high tide. In any case, as we approached the bank, Troy made his way to the bow and I took the helm. The plan was for Troy to keep a lookout for coral heads and guide me as I steer through any potential hazards. Before we left for our trip, we picked up a set of two-way radios, and I’m glad we did. Over the wind noise, we wouldn’t have been able to hear each other, unless we wanted to shout like lunatics. We backed down to about 1500 rpms, just enough to give us time to dodge a coral head, if needed. Just like crossing the Gulf Stream, the Yellow Bank was not nearly as scary as I had made it out to be in my head. Troy easily guided me a little to the left or a little to the right to pass coral heads safely. They were not too difficult to spot. Every so often, a dark mass appeared in the jewel-toned blue water. Soon, we were passed any potential hazards and the first cays of the Exumas came into view.

We picked Allans Cay as our first stopping point in the Exumas. This wasn’t the first of the Exuma Cays, but it was one of the first places that many cruisers stop on their journey south…plus there are iguanas! What is known collectively as “Allans Cay” is actually made up of three small, separate cays: Allans Cay, Leaf Cay (aka Iguana Beach), and Southwest Allans Cay. These three cays are arranged closely together in somewhat of a triangle shape, with a channel in between.

As we entered the cays, we did two things, almost simultaneously. First, marveled at the absolutely stunning scenery (endless shades of crystal clear blue water, white sand beaches, palm trees, boats anchored and swinging lazily in the breeze). Second, we had to decide where we were going to drop anchor. Most boats anchor in between Allans Cay and Leaf Cay. Southwest Allans Cay has a little shallow bay, where only two to three shallow draft boats can fit. There were about six to seven boats in the main anchorage, but the little bay was empty. That was our spot! Slowly, very slowly, we inched our way in as shallow as we could manage. The further in we crept, the shallower it became, but that also meant more protection from wind and sea swell. We dropped the hook in about six feet of water, at about mid-tide. Once we shut off the diesel, Troy and I just looked at each with big dopey grins…we were finally here!

Our anchorage was picture perfect: Salty Tails sat in the middle of the shallow crystal-clear bay surrounded by land on three sides. Two sides, opposite to one another were rocky with shrubs and low trees growing on top, the third side was a white sand beach…one that we had all to ourselves! However, we did notice a few iguanas poking around; surely waiting on handouts of fruits and veggies.

We dropped the dinghy soon after we recovered from our Exumas arrival shock. Ginnie, Bella, Troy, and I were off to explore the cays. The water was calm that day, so we were able to go wherever we pleased. Ginnie took her typical spot on the bow of the dinghy, paws stretch over the side and her face as close to the water as she could manage to reach. Bella instead, opted to lay on the floor, her eyes barely open, enjoying the warm sunshine. Troy and I poked around each of the cays, taking note of where we’d like to go ashore in the next few days.

Through the weekend, we spent time soaking up every minute…enjoying our typical taco night, swimming, sunbathing, and exploring by dinghy.

On Saturday, we ventured over to iguana beach (Leaf Cay). We went empty handed, just to observe, not to feed. Part of me hoped that if the iguanas saw our hands were empty, they’d keep their distance. Thankfully, they were pretty slow moving and didn’t seem too interested in us. They did however, let us snap a few close-ups.

The iguanas on Leaf Cay were enormous! And, they were everywhere. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said we saw at least 50 iguanas: either lounging on the sand, sleeping on rocks, or scurrying around the shrubbery. We noticed that what got their attention most were the loads of tour boats that came in. Many giant center console boats packed with tourists would arrive throughout the day, offering handouts to the iguanas. That is probably why they weren’t too concerned with us: we didn’t have the goods! In the next few days, I did hold on to a few apple cores…and tossed them from a distance.

The weather remained calm and placid over the weekend, we enjoyed every moment! This could not have been a better first stop in the Exumas!
Next stop…Normans Cay.

Berry Scary

We were a little groggy the next day, but ready to head to Little Harbor. We would be taking the outside route on the Northwest Providence Channel to reach our destination. This leg would take approximately four hours and the winds we were dodging had finally subsided. Once we began rounding Little Stirrup Cay we noticed the sea swell had not. In the Northwest Channel, waves were still significant…we estimated around 8-10 feet. We had originally planned to start under motor since there was very little wind. But, sailboats are made to sail, and in these conditions, the boat teeter-tottered, making the ride very uncomfortable, not to mention, cans of peas and carrots were rolling around down below. The direction of the waves in comparison to the direction of our track had the waves hitting us right on our beam, throwing us side to side. Troy decided to let out some of our headsail. WOW! What a difference! This balanced out the boat nicely, no more heaving. Just in time…no one lost their breakfast! What wind there was filled the sail nicely as we rode up and down the swells, catching glimpses of only the masts of other sailboats as they too rose and fell with the sea.
The Berry Islands are a chain of over 100 cays and islands that separate the Great Bahama Bank and the Northwest Providence Channel. We traveled the outside (Northwest Channel) route over deeper water. Anchorages along the Berry Islands are generally located on the bank side. This means that sailboats must pass through cuts, a pass between islands to travel from one body of water to another. We would need to pass through a cut to reach our anchorage on the protected and shallow bank side. We knew this was going to pose a challenge. The water that moves between cuts can be agreeable or your worst enemy. Since the angry sea swell from the deeper water would be funneling through the cut, we were going to experience the latter. Since we were unable to capture the events on camera, below is an accurate representation of the moment.

With the binoculars, I surprisingly spotted Delphinus far in the distance. We hadn’t planned on traveling with them, but here they were…small world. They were nearing the cut well before us, so I watched as intently as I could manage, hopefully getting some sense of what we would be up against. Keeping binoculars steady while underway in dicey conditions is harder than you might expect! But, I was able to see their mast pass though the cut. It soon would be our turn.
I was white-knuckled; Troy was focused as we approached. Because of the funnel effect and the depths decreasing rapidly, the ocean became even more churned up. We got closer and closer, finally at the point of no return…we couldn’t turn around even if we wanted to with the waves building around us. The waves picked us up and surfed us in. I finally started breathing again, we made it through the cut. Soon enough though, the depths on our depth finder decreased suddenly as we approached a reef, much shallower than our charts indicated. Although we were through the cut at this point, the force of the water would not allow us to retreat. The bottom became visible, too visible. We could see the rocky bottom and coral heads below as if we had just inches of water beneath us. If we grounded, we were going to be in serious trouble. Thankfully, what felt like an eternity, really only lasted seconds. No grounding, we cleared by just 18 inches; depths rose quickly as we entered the calm anchorage.

As if we had entered another world, the water in front of us was calm and flat, glassy even, while over our shoulders the angry sea raged on. The calm waters also brought quiet, no more crashing waves buffeting our ears. It was truly an idyllic place…just like a postcard. Delphinus was anchored just inside along the first beach. We stopped for a moment and they began to tell us that they had grounded badly while crossing the reef. This I could obviously not see through my binoculars earlier. Their 5.7 foot draft was just too much in comparison to our 4 foot draft. Paul was getting ready to dive and inspect the damage. Later, they let us know that the damage was only superficial, and no real harm was done. To this point in our journey, I don’t think I have been more thankful to drop anchor. We were exhausted, hungry, and in need of stillness.

We stayed a total of nine nights at Little Harbor. Our anchorage perfectly suited us to ride out two spells of high winds. We were protected from eastern and southern winds by the island and from northern and western winds by shallow waters. The strongest winds, around 35 knots, came out of the west. The shallow waters kept large waves or swell from building, so conditions were tolerable. During the days of poor weather, I made homemade bread and we watched the Back to the Future trilogy! And of course, Troy got a few boat projects done.

We kept busy the entire time we stayed. We were able to explore several places by dinghy, including the blue hole at Hoffman’s Cay, multiple pristine beaches at Devil’s and Comfort Cays, and the shallow waters that formed a hurricane hole near Flo’s restaurant (a popular cruiser destination). Stingrays, starfish, and sea turtles were everywhere. Our dinghy rides were always spent admiring the sea life.

Delphinus was finally able to leave after depth sounding several exit options by hand. They too, were weary of the charted depths that proved to be inaccurate. We said goodbye to our friends as they headed to Nassau.

A few days later, we left Little Harbor for our next stop, Chub Cay, one of the most southern islands in the Berry Island chain. The Northwest Providence Channel was a totally different ball game. The waters were calm, and we made it out of the cut with no problem. Five minutes in, we decided to stretch our trip and head straight for Nassau, skipping Chub Cay altogether. This would eliminate an entire stop for us, making us one step closer to reaching the Exumas.
The weather was sunny and warm that day, with very light winds. We motored and eventually could see the towers of the Atlantis Resort. Rather than entering the busy Nassau Harbor, we decided to make our way to the southwest side of New Providence Island and dock at Palm Cay Marina. Another cut lie ahead of us. The swell rose as the deep waters of the Northwest Providence Channel funneled down between Nassau and Rose Island. Unsure if the swell was too great (it felt like it was), we changed directions and entered through a wider cut. This took more time, but was a much safer option.

Troy guided us through the narrow channel into Palm Cay Marina. Upon our entry, we filled up on diesel at the fuel dock before heading to our slip. Without wasting any time, we took advantage of the marina’s Wi-Fi, hot showers, and laundry facility. I hadn’t used a washer and dryer in nearly two months…I savored the smell of freshly done laundry. We spent two days in Nassau, taking time to provision, fill our water tanks, and pick up a few marine supplies, including a spare Fortress anchor. Our cab driver made our errands more fun. She happily told us about growing up in the Bahamas and all the places we needed to visit.

On our second night, we made homemade pizza and discussed our next stop, the Exumas. We were so excited for our next leg of the trip. The Exumas are the reason we decided to travel to the Bahamas and couldn’t wait to start exploring!

Overnight, Dragging, and Rum

We said goodbye to the friendly faces at Brown’s Marina and began the first leg of our trip to the Berry Islands. We left ahead of Delphinus en route to Mackie Shoal. It was a beautiful day; the winds were light, the sun was bright overhead, and the water was crystal clear. The depths, which averaged 20 feet, appeared much shallower since we could see straight to the bottom. We moved along at 4 knots: definitely not racing speed, but we enjoyed the calm, smooth sail. We arrived at Mackie Shoal just before sunset. Expecting to drop anchor in depths less than 10 feet, we actually found much deeper water and turned out not to be quite the shallow safe spot we anticipated. Since Delphinus had hailed us on the VHF a few hours before to let us know that they would be continuing on through the night to Great Harbor, we decided to do the same. We knew the weather was going to remain calm and winds light; and since our buddy boat was somewhere nearby, we wouldn’t be alone. At our current speed, we’d arrive at Great Harbor just after sunrise. I was nervous, Troy was excited…for our first overnight, the weather was in our favor, so it gave us a good first opportunity. As the sun faded, the moon seemed to take it’s place. We were close to a full moon and the clear skies kept our path well lit.

We ate a quintessential “sailor dinner” that night: rice and beans. And later on, when I was trying to stay up and awake, I made homemade chocolate chip cookies…we “accidently” ate most of those throughout the night. Oh well. Neither of us slept in the cabin, instead we took shifts. One of us took the helm while the other catnapped on one of the lazarettes in the cockpit. The dogs slept just fine, but for us, sleep was difficult to come by, not because the waters were rough or uncomfortable, but because this was our first overnight! We were feeling constant excitement and anticipation. Darius Rucker’s new song, “For the First Time” has really spoken to me lately. In it he asks, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” Ummm…now! Everyday, actually! We reached our anchorage in Great Harbor and dropped anchor around 7:00 in the morning. After sorting a few things, sweeping up cookie crumbs, and waving to Delphinus upon their arrival, we crawled into the v-berth to get some sleep.

We planned to stay in Great Harbor for a few days to allow strong north winds to pass; we had good protection in an anchorage with about six other sailboats. The winds began to howl on day 2. We sat in the cockpit that afternoon and began to notice that very slowly, we were falling back in the group of boats. That could only mean one thing: the anchor was dragging. We hopped in the dinghy (Ginnie pitched a little fit that she wasn’t able to go for a ride) and rode out to check. Troy dove down on the anchor and since the bottom was grassy, it had not dug into the seabed. He picked up (all 55 pounds) and manually set the anchor, digging it passed the grass and into the seabed. After that, we had absolutely no issues, although we still slept with one eye open.

Our last night in Great Harbor was spent aboard Delphinus. Paul and John invited everyone in the anchorage over for drinks. We brought along some snacks and rum to share. The stern of Delphinus was a dinghy parking lot! Thank goodness dinghies are rubber inflatables, otherwise the bumping would have caused some traded paint! Everyone found a place to tie off and climb aboard. As we all trickled in, everyone gathered in the salon. We spent hours eating, drinking, and sharing plans, experiences, and stories. The cabin was such a melting pot: Canadians, Brits, and Americans. French was spoken and we even learned some British slang. As the night wore on, the rum was passed around…we ended up writing a song…but I’ll spare you the details.