31 Dec 2016

Early hours of New Year's Eve at sea off the coast of Mayaguana

I'm making the most of having an internet signal as we sail off the coast of the southernmost Bahamian island of Mayaguana en-route to the Turks and Caicos.  It's my watch as Paul catches some sleep and very windy but we're well reefed down and in a couple of hours will be turning south and putting the wind behind us which will make for a more pleasant sail.  And within 8 hours we will be in the marina relaxing by the infinity pool of the associated 5 star resort .... a cocktail or two beckons!

It's been a passage of three parts: The first 12 hours motoring with next to no wind, the final 12 hours with high winds and the 20 hours in the middle very pleasant.  At the moment I am staring up at the most amazing canopy of stars .... no light pollution here!  It's really warm too as we're now back in the tropics, not that the Bahamas was remotely cold. We're looking forward to seeing something of the Turks and Caicos as we have never stopped before .... photos to come.  Time to check the chart plotter again now ....

29 Dec 2016

29/12/2016 : Georgetown, Exumas

We're not leaving for the Turks and Caicos until 4pm this afternoon and so we are relaxing today given our next two nights will be at sea.  There will be very little wind for the first twelve hours but then we will pick up winds as a new weather front catches us up. So a journey of two halves ....

This morning we went for a hike to the highest point in the Exumas, Monument on Stocking Island. It was worth the climb as the views were amazing.

28 Dec 2016

28/12/2016 : Starting the long haul south-east

We had a great Christmas in Blackpoint Settlement and made some good friends along the way.  Dinner on Christmas Eve on a neighbouring catamaran was fun, as was dinner ashore on the big day itself.  We went along wearing some novelty reindeer antlers much to the amusement of most people there but soon donated them to the DJ and the restaurant owner as the evening got underway.  On Boxing Day we hosted dinner aboard Tumi and had another fun evening, so all in all a big success despite the very high winds!

This time of year is known to have predominantly north-easterly winds, perfect for us to sail south-east from the Bahamas to the British Virgin Islands .... or so we thought.  With all the lows in the northern hemisphere, we are seeing unseasonally strong trade winds blowing from the south-east, and forecast to continue doing so for the next week or more.  Not what we want or need when we have friends flying into the BVI on 15th January.  So we've decided to try and hop down in stages and yesterday saw us complete the first and short stage down to Georgetown on Great Exuma.  The forecast ENE at 16 knots actually translated into winds of 22-28 knots just south of east, making for a beat into wind and swells but we managed to sail all the way.  Yet again it's shaken our confidence in the accuracy, or otherwise, of the forecasts.

Stage two will see us depart Georgetown for the Turks and Caicos islands where we plan on spending New Year subject to the marina there having availability ..... fingers crossed!  And then stage three will be a 3-day sail to the BVI later next week when we're hoping the wind strength will have lessened and that there might be a little bit of north in the forecast.  Fingers crossed.  We've never stopped in the Turks and Caicos before so it will be nice to see somewhere new.

In the meantime we're giving our new bbq a go tonight for the first time.  It's a free-standing affair, double-skinned (the outer skin doesn't get hot - or at least that's the theory) with a small fan underneath the small charcoal chamber to regulate the air flow.  Good old German engineering .... sounds almost too good to be true!

24 Dec 2016

Christmas Eve - Black Point Settlement

We have spent the past few days relaxing in different anchorages, and getting to know some more sailors better. The past two days we have been in Black Point Settlement, the last bastion of the real Bahamas and have been joined here by several Canadians and the odd american boat. We are the token Brits in the anchorage but hey ho! We have been to happy hour on shore the past two evenings, the rum punches are lethal here and last night they were not taking any prisoners! There was a party on and the drinks and music were full on, with loads of the locals there enjoying the scene. On the way back to the boat, I dropped the kill cord for the outboard in the water at the dinghy dock, stripped off and went in to retrieve it. Fortunately the water was neither too deep, nor were there any predators nearby and I was able to find it quickly, climbed back aboard and motored back to Tumi sodden.

Today has been a baking day, we have been invited to dinner on board a catamaran tonight and we are doing the hors doeuvres so we are making savoury scones and baking bread rolls, my bread making skills seem to be coming on in leaps and bounds.

Tomorrow we and most of the other boaters are gathering at 4:30pm for drinks and christmas dinner at 6pm on shore at Lorraines, apparently last year's spread was really good so we are going to give it a try.

The christmas winds are here too, and we let out an extra 10 metres of anchor chain just to be sure we would hold. There's plenty of room in the anchorage so it wasn't an issue to any of the other boats.

Anyway, that's all for now, a very Merry Christmas to all our readers!

20 Dec 2016

20/12/2016 : Big Majors Spot, Exumas

After a good crossing from the Berrys to Highbourne Cay at the northern end of the Exumas chain, we continued further south to Warderwick Wells after a night's sleep, to make the most of the north easterly wind before the wind clocked to the south east, which would have made sailing untenable.

Warderwick Wells is one of our favourite places in the Exumas, a national park that is ruggedly beautiful with the Atlantic crashing on the eastern shore and a protected lagoon on the western side where the mooring field is.  The water is the most amazing turquoise colour and the sand white and fine.  Ashore are hiking trails, blowholes, wildlife and, on the highest point of the island called Boo Boo hill, a pile of driftwood where passing sailors inscribe their names.  We added Tumi's to the pile.

We enjoyed a couple of hikes over the weekend spotting plenty of curly tailed lizards, a blue tailed skink, a snake and several butterflies. There have been very high tides (full moon) and a number of the trails were underwater but being ever the adventurers we ploughed on!

As we found in recent years, staying in smaller anchorages with a focal point ashore is a great way of meeting fellow sailors, sharing stories and plans.  There is a wooden gazebo on the beach at Warderwick Wells and on Saturday night about 30 sailors from around the world met up for sundowners.  Amazingly we met a couple from Sheffield and so were able to chat about places closer to home too.

After another windy weekend we sailed three hours south yesterday to big Majors Spot near Staniel Cay, another favourite place and home of the swimming pigs. Despite being the last of 5 boats leaving and heading for the same place we were the first to arrive, Tumi being the great boat that she is for pointing close into the wind.  The deep water channel to leave Warderwick Wells is narrow and we came close to clipping a moored catamaran which suddenly moved with the wind but Paul's quick action averted a collision, thank goodness. And now we're back in the land of communication, albeit frustratingly slow!  It's amazing how much we miss it when it's not available so we're making the most of it now.

One thing we have got to start doing is looking for a good weather window to sail to the BVI in time for friends arriving. Winds in this part of the world are generally from the south east or north east.  It's a 5 day sail and as we will be travelling south east we want wind from the north east to enable us to sail and not be motoring into swells.  As it's looking at the moment we may have to change our plans to spend Christmas here as the winds clock to the south east on Boxing Day so we will probably sail down to Great Exuma just before Christmas and wait for the next north-easterly weather window to sail on from there.

16 Dec 2016

15 Dec 2016 Sailing to the Exumas

We have had a couple of relaxing days in the Berry Islands after leaving the Great Harbour Cay Marina. We had to motor around the top of the islands and in through a cut to nestle behind Cabbage Cay and Little Harbour Cay. There were two other boats already at anchor and we dropped the hook a reasonable distance from them in about 3 metres of water at low tide. Taking the dinghy to explore the waters between the islands we negotiated our way through shallows and deep channels, with turtles and stingrays galore scooting out of our way. It's surprising just how fast turtles can go when they want to, but equally refreshing to see so many in such a small area.

By the time we had returned to Tumi, another catamaran had dropped anchor next to us so we had company for the night at least. The couple on the catamaran next to us invited us over for sundowners, and Jane was playing her steel drum when we went across. Debra had a go, and did very well at it, with Tom and me accompanying on a scraper and rattle. Surprisingly a good sound!

We found a restaurant on the island (total number of inhabitants:3) called Flo's Conch Shack and we had lunch there yesterday with Tom and Jane from the catamaran next to us. As we tied up at the dinghy dock, three sharks (one adult, 2 juniors) started circling around the dock, obviously used to being fed with the conch and fish scraps.

When we booked the meal we were offered the choice of fish (snapper) lobster or conch. We both chose lobster, but when we polled up to eat, the choice was conch or fish only, so that's what we ate with coleslaw and rice and beans, true Bahamian fare.

We ate far too much, and then as tradition demands left our legacy on the walls of the shack.

Back on board, there was no wind and it was really hot, so we both jumped in the water to cool off, a first for this season, now we just have to top up the tans!

Getting a signal to access the Internet has proved somewhat challenging and we have to try every angle possible to succeed ...

11 Dec 2016

10/12/2016 : BBC on Great Harbour Cay

That's baking, bread-making and cycling, all part of today's activities.  Whilst it's very beautiful here and somewhat off the beaten track, buying groceries isn't straight forward so we decided to open the Tumi bakery and successfully produced a loaf of bread and some bran muffins ... very proud!  The French lady on the boat moored next to us even gave me a lesson in baguette making so we'll be putting that to the test in the near future.

The marina provides complimentary bikes to explore the island so this afternoon we headed out for some fresh air and cycled around 8 miles on bikes with no gears nor brakes .... hard work on some of the hills I can tell you!  They also arrange social events so last night about 20 of us dined on the dockside and put the world to rights, all good fun.

The previous evening we were lucky enough to be given three freshly caught lobster tails and, after looking up how to cook them, produced a very attractive plate of food which tasted absolutely delicious.  Accompanied by a glass of white wine, we dined like kings.

It's pretty windy this weekend and so unusually for us we've opted to stay in the marina for a week ... at least this way we can get off the boat easily.  Tomorrow morning we're off for Sunday brunch at the only hotel on the island .... a small boutique place on the beach run by an English couple.  We called in today to book a table and we're welcomed with complimentary drinks .... all very civilised!

7 Dec 2016

Up Shark Creek without a paddle ... 7 Dec 2016

We went kayaking today, up Shark Creek (sounds somewhat proverbial, doesn't it?) into the mangroves and back again without any mishaps, capsizes or loss of paddles, contrary to the title (although it probably got your attention!).

Once Debra got the hang of paddling (this was her first time) she did very well, although our shoulders now feel the benefits of the exertion of effort and we will probably both be in need of a massage tonight. However, despite the exertion, we both really revelled in the peace nad tranquility of not having to listen to a four stroke outboard engine as we glided up through the main channel of the creek as far as we could go and still turn the kayaks around. Shallow waters with carpets of sea grass swaying in the current a few inches below us, exchanging places with deep pools where swimming would be so welcome (if it wasn't for the sharks .... actually, we didn't see any, disappointingly).

Having done the creek, we then ventured out into the Atlantic Ocean (or at least a bay of it) to get to a beach club for a late lunch and a few well earned beers.

We borrowed the kayaks from Steve, the manager of the marina we are staying in, a really nice guy, and so helpful. In fact, we would heartily recommend anyone visiting here, it is go nice. We will happily ride out the coming storm here.

6 Dec 2016

6 December 2016 Great Harbour Cay

We set off from Key West at 2:30pm with great expectations that the weather was going to play ball and allow us to sail all the way to Great Harbour Cay. Hmm. As we left Key West we expected the winds to veer from East to southeast so that as we headed east we would be close hauled but able to sail relatively easily. Well, the winds decided not to move as predicted and we were really pushing the envelope sailing too close to the wind, but also into the waves. Not a comfortable sailing situation. By the time we got to midnight, we had had enough and diverted into Marathon Key to an anchorage that is deep enough to take our draught to get some sleep and see what the weather was doing in the morning.
At 6am, we got up, checked the weather forecasts yet again to see that the winds had shifted round to the south east, we could go. We changed our approach this time and took the Hawk Passage (inside the reef) as far as some shoals, then branched outside into the main Gulf Stream waters. As we got further round the Keys, we started to head northeast and the sailing really started. The first part of the Gulf Stream was rather bouncy, the result of days of wind over tide, but once we got out into the deeper water things calmed down a bit and we were blistering along and it turned out to be a great sail. As we approached the North Rocks near Bimini we calculated that our average speed for the last 4.5 hours was 10 knots - not bad at all!
We turned into the Bahama Bank as the winds moved to the south, meaning that we should have had a good sail onwards across the bank, however, the short punchy waves on our bow had other ideas and it turned out to be something of a slog with the bow being pounded by every other wave coming towards us, no sleep for either of us last night so we arrived pretty jaded at high water today. The tally for 24 hours sailing - 180 miles, a pretty good average speed of 7.5 knots.
We are now tucked up in the cosy marina we like here on Great Harbour Cay, planning to stay for a week to allow a severe weather pattern to blow through and we will remain in our hurricane hole while it exhausts itself.

4 Dec 2016

4/12/2016 : Readying to set sail to the Bahamas

By lunchtime today the winds will swing from the nort-east to south-east enabling us to start the one and a half day sail to the Berry Islands in the Bahamas.  The trip basically breaks down into 3 parts : 12 hours sailing just outside the reef along the length of the Florida Keys; 12 hours crossing from Florida to Bimini, including the Gulf Stream and then 12 hours across the Bahama Bank where the water will be between 3 and 6 metres deep and the most amazing turquoise colour.  We're hoping the forecasters have got it exactly right this time ..... it looks almost perfect sailing conditions for where we want to go, and that doesn't happen too often!

We've enjoyed being in Key West and to some extent are sad to be leaving the US where everything we need, be it food, spares, entertainment, facilities, is readily avaliable but are looking forward to the beauty of the Bahamas. We've used the extra few days here to undertake a bit of boat maintenance (something neither of us particularly enjoys so we tend to avoid) but also to enjoy the local colour, brew and Christmas preparations, all in all making it a fun place to be.