From Nassau to the Berry Islands

We pulled into our slip at Palm Cay Marina just in time before an afternoon thunderstorm began. We were happy to see the familiar faces of SV Elysian and thankful that they were willing to catch lines for us as we docked. I don’t think any sailors turn down extra hands for catching lines when docking!20180611_164837

The marina had just reduced their rates for the summer season, so we decided to stay a total of four nights, rather than two, like we had planned. Our four days were spent enjoying land-comforts…laundry, hot showers, wi-fi, and grocery stores. A full-size grocery store was built since our last visit, just a mile or so down the road, so we walked and brought our rolly-cart to carry groceries. We reprovisioned on essentials and bought a few special items…deli subs, Alexia sweet potato fries, and a few cartons of strawberries.

Back on solid ground, I decided to give running a go for the first time in months. I hadn’t run since we left home back in February. Early on the second morning in Nassau, I dug out my running shoes and went for it. My old pace (8:35/mi) was long gone, but I was shooting to keep in under 10-minute miles…I succeeded, barely, at 9:45/mile. I ran a total of four miles over our stay at Palm Cay…my legs were like jello!20180609_081810

We walked the dogs around the marina…Ginnie wasn’t so sure what the leashes were all about since she’s gotten used to being off-leash, but both dogs seemed to enjoy the grass!

Troy and I made one trip into Nassau by taxi. We picked up a new handheld radio and the Near Bahamas Explore Chartbook. Since we knew exactly what we needed and from only one store, our taxi driver agreed to wait for us…he was so nice and friendly…telling us all about his life growing up in the Bahamas.

While we had wi-fi, I downloaded the CBP ROAM app in preparation for our arrival in the states. This app is very new and after reading a description about it from the Boat Galley blog, I decided to give it a try. This app will allow us to check-in to the United States without having to go to a face-to-face appointment with Customs and Border Patrol. I entered our passport information and pictures along with our boat information. When we arrive in the states, to check-in, all I would need to do is complete a facetime appointment with a Customs and Border Patrol officer.

After our fourth night, we woke up and left early, to begin the trip 50 miles north to the Berry Islands. The winds were a bit stronger than we expected as we moved around New Providence; this made the first leg pretty choppy. Soon, we were aiming for Little Harbor and Devil’s Cay in calmer conditions. We realized, early on, that we were in for a stormy trip. We watched as dark clouds built up around us in the distance. Lightning was everywhere…but luckily nothing too close. It still made me nervous; as we got further and further offshore, the amount of lightning strikes seemed to increase. We got rain on and off our whole trip, but with the rain, came no wind. We moved SO SLOW. Eventually, we motored, being chased by storm cells in every direction.20180612_13350220180612_134531

Finally, we could see land as we approached the Berries, but we still had a ways to go. The cockpit was soaked from rain blowing in from the sides. Everything was wet, but at least the lightning was diminishing. Soon, thankfully, the storms subsided, and we made it through the cut to the shallow, protected interior of the islands. Once inside, it’s as if we’re in a sanctuary…we got the same feeling after surfing down waves for our first arrival here. We anchored behind Fowl Cay for our first night and then moved over to our favorite spot, Devil’s Cay, the next morning on a rising tide. The interior of the Berry Islands are shallow, so we moved over to our new spot when we had more water under the keel. We dropped anchor in a sandy patch among the seagrass about halfway down the cay.20180613_061518

Calm, protected, and HOT. We were really starting to feel the heat. With little breeze, we cooled off in the water many times throughout the day. Flip-flop hiking and dinghy exploring filled up our itinerary. The views are unspoiled…sugary sand, rocks and grasses, surrounded by blue crystal-clear water…perfection!20180614_12544420180615_152848

Ginnie was lucky enough to score an evening dinghy ride and I finally took a video. You can see her pure joy. I’m telling you, there is nothing that makes this dog happier than perching herself on the front of the dinghy…the faster, the better!

At this point in our trip, we were starting to make plans for our arrival in the United States. It is hard to believe our time in the Bahamas was coming to an end. It had been over four months since we were in Florida. At this point, we planned on moving from Devil’s Cay to Great Harbor Cay in the Berry Islands. From there, we’d make an overnight trip to Bimini and wait for a weather window to cross back over to Miami. Our weather information from Chris Parker told us that we’d be in for light and variable winds…more motoring, most likely. So, with that knowledge, we made our way out and around towards Great Harbor.

 

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!