Thursday, May 28, 2009

A lovely crossing ...

We left Crab Cay at about 0800 on Sunday, May 23, in a small weather window to sail about 50 miles to Great Sale Cay, which has a large anchorage used by cruisers as a staging area to cross the Gulf Stream to Florida or as a place to rest after arriving from Florida to the Abacos. It was a beautiful sail, a broad reach at 6 knots and better, and we caught a lovely Mutton Snapper and had it fileted and in the freezer before 0930.

About six miles out from Great Sale and squall hit us. We saw it coming and reefed the Genoa and main before it hit, but in the process we stupidly forgot to pull in the fishing line, and as we hove to to reef the main, the light weight line got caught up in the wind generator. I shut it down and did a high-wire act to try and get the line off. The best I could do was to cut the line and hope the remaining small amount didn't jam up the wind generator ... we've really come to rely on it for keeping the batteries up, which it does beautifully in 15-20 knots of wind.

Once the line was cut away from the generator, and Pen began pulling the end of it in to retrieve the lure, she saw that it was caught beneath the hull. Our motor was not on, so it couldn't get hook on the prop, and we thought it might be caught on the rudder. But what if the line was wrapped around the prop? We resumed our sail toward Great Sale Cay, and I said we could anchor under sail and then I'd dive the prop so see if the lure and line were caught there. But after the squall past, Pen said she'd feel better if we had the engine available while anchoring, so why didn't we just heave to and she'd dive the prop. I agreed, and she went over and found no lure and no line ... it had washed away ... so we continued sailing into the anchorage and in fact could easily of anchored without the engine, but we turned it on just for safety anyway.

Great Sale is an enormous anchorage, and initially only three other boats were there, easily a quarter of a mile apart from each other. A power boat was closest to us and a bit later a second one arrived, obviously traveling together with the first since they rafted up together. It continued to rain most of the night and cleared a bit the next morning, but my Sirius weather showed a forecast of continued low pressure and thunderstorms and rain. In the morning I concluded that our plan to go on to Grand Cay, where we could pick up some supplies, was not worth it, because the anchorage was not as protected there as the one we were in, so we prepared to sit for a while. Then I got the dinghy ready to go over to the power boats and see what weather reports they were getting, but just as I got the engine started, they began pulling up anchor and soon headed off to the west, we assumed to Mangrove Cay, another smaller staging point closer to the edge of the Bahama Bank.

In any event, we decided to dinghy out to the nearest sailboat. There we discovered Brian and Rob who were headed back to Florida and planned to go to Memory Rock, right at the edge of the Bahamas, later that day and anchor and then leave to cross around midnight. We shared weather thoughts, and I still thought we probably would wait another day or two. It was a lovely meeting, and it turned out they knew our new friends Brian and Sheree from the William H. Albury in Marsh Harbour.  They had worked for Sea Base, the organization that does the charters for scouts, and now they had their own sailing school program operating out of Marsh Harbour.  What a small world.

As the day went on, I continued to monitor the weather forecasts, and perhaps five more boats came in to the anchorage by 1800 hours.  I noticed that Brian and Rob hadn't left yet for Memory Rock, so clearly they weren't going to sit out the evening at Memory Rock.  Finally, around dinner time, a new forecast came up on Sirius.  It showed a high in the Atlantic, which had just been sitting there, moving to the west and pushing the low that had been bringing a week of downpours, thunder and lightning to Florida, the Gulf Stream, and the Bahamas further to the west.  It looked like a good window to me ... we'd still have some wind for 24-36 hours, before the high came to dominate the whole area, but we'd have to leave ASAP.  So after Pen and I discussed it, we agreed we'd leave early in the morning.  We pulled up the dinghy onto the davits and secured it.  I rigged the jack line, got out the PDFs, harnesses, and tethers and we went over some offshore safety procedures.  Then we had dinner ... snow crab in Alfredo sauce and pasta, of course with wine ... wonderful!

Tuesday morning, 0130, I was up making coffee and getting Alizee ready to sail.  Instruments on, sail up, running lights and steaming light on, coffee in my cup, I began raising the anchor ... it awakened Pen, and by the time she was up, we were motor-sailing out of the anchorage in 10 knots of wind.  Our destination, Manatilla Shoals, a recommended exit point from the Bahama bank.  The night sail was lovely, and we agreed that we'd take three-hour watches, with Pen starting her first one at 0600.

Once the sun came up and Pen came on watch, I set out our fishing lines ... a hand line on the port side and the trolling line on the starboard.  After a couple of hours we had our first fish on the hand line, a barracuda, which we had a heck of a time retrieving the hook from and setting it loose.  Then, every fifteen minutes for the next forty-five we caught another barracuda, each on the trolling line, and letting them all go ... we got pretty good at retrieving the lures.  By midday, we were out of the Bahamas and into the Atlantic heading toward the Gulf Stream, when we caught another fish.  Hoping for tuna, we were really dissappointed to find yet another barracuda, which we threw back.

The Atlantic was smooth with very light swells - two to four feet at worst - and as the wind came up, I killed the engine, and we really had a wonderful sail at six knots or so.  The night before we'd left, while I was hauling up the dinghy and setting up the jack line and such, Pen had put together some chili for the crossing, made up some tuna salad and a fruit salad.  We already had some cole slaw I had made.  So we ate well, tuna wraps for lunch, chili and wine with fruit salad and cole slaw for dinner ... I think I made some blueberry pancakes for breakfast.

As the evening approached we started feeling the effect of the Gulf Stream, which came propitiously just when the wind started dying and I had to turn on the engine again and motor-sail.  After sunset we started picking up a lot of AIS targets.  This is the time of evening when cargo vessels from south Florida head northward in the Gulf Stream, most heading toward Jacksonville Florida.  We must have had five or six targets on the screen most of the time for about three hours.  Later, on her early morning watch, Pen woke me up once or twice to verify what she was seeing (I'd told her not to hesitate a moment to awaken me), but she got it down pretty quickly.

I took the midnight to 0300 watch, and at 0100, when we were going up the Gulf Stream at well over seven knots (getting a 3.5 knot push by the stream), the sky suddenly lit up to the east out in the Atlantic.  It was without question a missile launch from a naval vessel of some sort, and I've got to say I was pretty surprised to see the missile drop its booster and then arc far out of site.  What the hell?  Who?  Why?  Then a VHF call to the coast guard from a mariner, who asked what was this thing he'd seen.  The Coast Guard started to put him off with "we can't chat about things on the radio" but this sailor was pretty sharp.  He immediately said, I want to report a flare sighting, which the CG could not ignore and asked for position and bearing and such.  Then a moment or two later the CG came back with a not-to-worry "what you saw was a NASA exercise."  The mariner seemed to accept that, and about twenty minutes later another sailboat skipper also reported the same thing and got the same answer.  Well, NASA maybe, but I'm sure it was a military exercise, not a NASA exercise.  The CG said NASA, I think, because we were all just off Cape Canaveral.

Pen took over at 0300, and I got some very comfortable sleep in the V-berth.  When I awoke, the ocean surface was like a mill pond, and the sunrise was spectacular.  The high in the Atlantic had done exactly what had been predicted, and the seas flattened out to almost nothing.  We gradually slowed as we left the Gulf Stream and began heading toward the Florida coast.  While Pen was sleeping, I got our last fish on the hook, a fighter, definitely not a barracuda, but it was too fast for me and slipped the lure after I'd got it in about half way.  It was probably our tuna ... damn/spit.  We'll have to buy tuna this time.

At 1200 we entered the channel markers for Ponce Inlet at New Smyrna Beach.  We'd been sailing for 33 hours, traveled 194 miles, and averaged 5.6 knots.  Tired, we followed the channel toward the Intracoastal Waterway and to and anchorage just nearby.  Pen had been there before many years ago and as she looked at the chart said to turn in just after marker #22 ... my chart plotter seemed to agree with that.  Oops!  We were aground, suddenly and quickly in two-and-a-half feet of water, and the tide was going out!  I quickly put all sails out to heel Alizee,  but no luck.  We were stuck!  How embarrasing was this?  Just finish a great crossing and we're stuck on the ICW.  I called Boat US on the radio ... he knew exactly where we were ... and it 30 minutes we were off ... and he was richer (the bill was $750, which, of course, I never pay ... he'd really negotiated a sweetheart deal with Boat US).

He was good enough to guide us into the anchorage, I settled up the paper work with him, we got settled in and decided to go ashore and put our feet on ground.  We'd been on the boat for well over a week without going ashore!  I lowered the dinghy, Pen got cleaned up a bit, and then ... damn ... the dinghy motor wouldn't start.  I switched out the plugs, bled the fuel lines and carbuerator, and after a couple of false starts finally got the motor going.  We went in for a drink and an appetizer of seared tuna (finally!), thoroughly enjoyed it, and then returned for yet another drink, sat in the cockpit and took in the serenity of this pretty anchorage, which contained more wildlife than we'd seen anywhere in the Bahamas, and watched the late-afternoon thunder and lightning storm roll by us.  It was a lovely end to a great crossing!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Waiting on weather ...

It is Friday, May 22, and we are anchored at Crab Cay, almost at the top of Little Abaco Island.  We are waiting out a low pressure system that parked itself over the northern Bahamas this week, dumping a foot of water and gracing us with lots of ear-splitting thunder and lightning, one strike so close a couple of days ago that I feared one of the four boats anchored with us here had been struck.  And, later that night when I turned on my instruments to check the wind speed, I thought they might have been affected by the nearby strike ... seems okay now, but I’ve heard that nearby strikes can affect electronics slowly for weeks and months after the event.  We’ll see, as Pen is fond of saying.

Anyhow, we’ve spent three days here and prior to that spent two days a Powell Cay, having a lovely romp of a sail over here to Crab Cay with a slight break in the weather on Wednesday.  The winds have been steady at 25 knots for at least two days, with gusts of 32 knots, and the water in the anchorage has look mighty mean at times.  We’ve not dragged, nor have any of the other boats, and we’ve got a hundred feet of chain out.  I’ll be fun trying to weigh anchor tomorrow morning, I think.  We’re dug in for sure.  Another boat skipper came by and said he and two other boats had been here for eight days now and were sorely ready to get out and head down island to Green Turtle, straight into the wind, of course.

Tomorrow we’re headed for Great Sale Cay, a staging anchorage about 40 miles from the west side of the Bahamas bank where boats often spend their last night or two before crossing the Gulf Stream back to Florida.  We’ll probably spend a night there and then sail north to Grand Cay, where we can pick up anything we desperately need at a local store.  Then after another night, weather willing, we’ll sail west, out of the banks at Manatilla Shoals and cross the 130 nm to Ponce Inlet, the closest inlet into the Intracoastal Waterway to Daytona Beach, which is just a 40 minute drive from Penelope’s house in Deland.  All this planning depends on weather, but I’m hoping we won’t have to wait out another system.

Since my last blog post, we spent the afternoon and night of May 15 (a week ago today) at Green Turtle Cay, anchored off the village of New Plymouth, where we did some resupplying, picked up another “lucky yellow lure” for fishing, and stopped by Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar for a Goombai Smash and visited with her granddaughter, Missy, who was running the bar.  Penelope cooked a wonderful Parmesan recipe for a big filet of Mutton Snapper, we called her daughter Erin on Skype to wish her “happy birthday,” and I managed to make a reservation change for our trip back from Budapest in August, which will give us a week in and around New York City instead of an extra week in Budapest.  The exchange rate had us both worried about that, and we’ve got friends in New York to stay with, which will save us immeasurably.

On Saturday, May 16, we had to wait a bit in the morning to leave Green Turtle because of low tide.  After a quiet morning, we dinghied into Pineapple’s for lunch, sharing a cheeseburger and a Mahi-Mahi fish burger, and then getting a bag of ice.  We weighed anchor and sailed up to Manjack Cay, a favorite spot we’d stayed a couple of days at over a month ago.  We’ve gotten very good at leaving anchor under sail, only using the engine to help pull up the anchor and maneuver if we’re too close to other boats.  We’re doing equally as well coming into anchorages, with the sails down only after we’ve turned onto the spot we want to anchor.  And, we’ve gotten some compliments from other sailors for this as well.

At Manjack we dinghied through the Mangrove swamp, going up tributaries that we'd missed weeks before.  Then we returned “home” for Yellow Tail Snapper sushi, cocktails while I played the keyboard in the cockpit until sunset, followed by another wonderful fish dish a la Penelope. 

Sunday, May 17, Pen wrote in her log: “Ahhh, what a life.  I made the bed while James made coffee and now here we sit in the cockpit reading, writing, looking at charts as we plan our slow withdrawal from the Abacos.  Withdrawal would be the operative word because I’m already anticipating the sadness at leaving the islands and this wonderful life on the boat with James.

“Sailed up to the upper end of Manjack, and tacking out the cut to make it into the new anchorage caught two Yellow Tail Snappers!  Nice little anchorage, but we seem to have a few flies with us … a real pain while cleaning fish.  We also had gull company, two of which stayed with us off and on until dusk.  I told them they could join us if they didn’t poop on the dinghy or make too much racket waiting for tidbits. 

“We had sushi appetizer and left-over fish with fruit salad for dinner.  Lots of music from the Ipod and James played along with it.”

Monday, May 18, again from Pen’s log: “Too bad the gulls didn’t take us up on our offer to come along with us.  We caught another Yellow Tail on our way to Powell Cay.  Then I’ll be damned if we didn’t hook another snapper, this one a large Mutton, as we sailed into the anchorage.  It was a little hairy trying to reel in the fish, avoid an outgoing boat, and head up into the wind before we sailed smack into the shore.  We did it all without a cross word or raised voice.  There weren’t even any white knuckles, although I was getting anxious as the shore got closer and closer. 

“It’s a little squally today, and we had to try anchoring three times before we got a position and hold we were sure about.  Once anchored, I cleaned the fish while James tried to find fellow sailors who might like a Mutton Snapper filet.  Alas, he did, and then the fellows, Jim and Rick came by to thank us and helped us drink our rum. 

“To date we’ve caught four Mutton Snappers, seven Yellow Tails (two of which we gave back to the sea), and one Blue Runner.  We’ve caught a fish or two every day for the last six days.  Unbelievable!  He fixed sushi for lunch today … Yum … and is getting really good at the rolls, although we’re almost out of Nori again.  Tonight we grilled Mutton Snapper after an appetizer of steamed Stone Crab claws.  We are sure eating a lot of fish for people who really only like fish if it’s sushi.  But I have to admit we’ve had some good dishes!”

Tuesday, May 19, was our “seven month anniversary” based on the October date we first corresponded.  Rick and Jim in Pitcairn, a 33-foot Tartan, sailed off around 0800 making way to Great Sale Cay, a good eight-hour sail.  I guess they thought the rain and wind from the night before would dissipate, but we saw storm still clouds on the horizon and stayed put.  Wise choice, for it stormed mightily, with gusts of 33 to 35 knots!  With less than an eighth-of-a-mile visibility at times, it was the worst weather we’d been in since getting to the Bahamas.  I took some Stugeron (somewhat like Dramamine) over to the couple on the one other boat in the anchorage, a small sloop … when I’d offered them fish the evening before, they admitted to being a bit seasick and being without medicine.  I offered them some then, which they declined, but today, I just took it over, and they seemed green-in-the-gills thankful for it.  Later, in a slight break in the weather that afternoon, they motored off and into the wind toward Green Turtle Cay a couple of hours away at least.  Meanwhile, we lazed about in the stormy weather, celebrating our anniversary by reading aloud our early emails to each other.  Said Pen: “The thrill and tenderness is all still there and more.  We are blessed.”

On Wednesday, May 20, a small weather window appeared and we decided to move onward and sail to Crab Cay, eight nautical miles and with winds of 18-24 knots.  We considered anchoring briefly at Cooperstown for a trip into the grocery, but decided against it as it would have been an anchorage with the shore alee of us.  So we broad reached and went wing-on-wing up to Crab Cay, reaching as much as 7.9 knots over ground as we surfed the wind waves.  We jibed our way around the upper end of the cay, and when we found ourselves on a beam reach we hit 8.2 knots SOG.  The winds made getting the Genoa in a bit dicey, but we managed even with a small overlapped on the roller furling line and some tangled sheets.  As we anchored between two other boats (an Irwin 37 and a Hunter 30-something), the fellow on the Hunter popped up and yelled: “We’ve all got 200 feet of chain out.  It’s been blowing for four days.”  Noticing he had rope rode, not chain, we said nothing, but we put out 100 feet, which in the last three stormy days we’re glad we did.

The wind lightened enough for me to grill us a steak, which with sashimi appetizer and baked potatoes and veggies made a wonderful meal. 

This brings me back to where I started this entry.  The weather window is here ... not quite soon enough for us to make the 50 miles to Great Sale today, but we will tomorrow.  Meantime, I’ve checked the engine oil and alternator belt, hoisted the dinghy up on the davits (after bailing out twenty gallons of water … the gas tank was floating), and we’re set to leave at 0800 or earlier in the morning.  “God willing, and the creek don’t rise,” says Pen.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Starting our way back to the mainland ...

We are at anchor off New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay, probably the last major settlement we'll visit in the Abacos on our way back to the mainland. We've still got almost two weeks in the islands, but most of our stops will be at uninhabited cays. In Marsh Harbour three days ago, we had a wonderful farewell dinner aboard Alizee with our new friends Brian and Sheree ... they brought the most wonderful Stone Crab claws, which we all agreed were the sweetest crab meat any of us had ever eaten. 

The next day we sailed down to Hope Town for a brief visit with Dave and Phoebe Gale, who own and live on the largest of the Parrot Cays and whom we'd met on our day out on the schooner William H. Albury.  Their's is a wonderful story, moving to the islands in 1954, newly married, and building a remarkable life here, and their home on Parrot Cay is truly wonderful (click to see more about them).  We're reading Dave's book Ready About, relishing it, and looking forward to coming back and seeing them again next year.

On the way there, we caught two Yellow Tail Snappers, each about a foot long, and Pen felt they were too small to keep, so we released each of them.  When we told Dave Gale, he said that that's about the size they come in around here and nobody throws them back.  So, we were feeling a bit disappointed but figured we'd earned some good karma.  True enough, the next day, sailing up to anchor at Fisher's Bay, Guana Cay, we caught two more Yellow Tails and have enjoyed a couple of lovely sushi appetizers. 

When we left Guana Cay yesterday to pass through the Loggerhead and Whale Cay cuts into the Atlantic and back into the Sea of Abaco, we trolled as usual, hoping for a couple of more Yellow Tails.  As we approached the northern end of Guana Cay we had a strike ... we were going on a broad reach at almost six knots.  I had a hell of a time bringing this one in ... a three foot, 15 pound Mutton Snapper.  Now I know that I should slow the boat, perhaps heave to in order to reel in such a large fish so you're not also fighting dragging the fish through moving water, but I didn't think of that at the time.  We virtually drowned the poor thing by the time I got her to the side of the boat and Pen was able to gaff her and bring her aboard.  We found a good spot of sand just at the northern end of Guana to anchor and set out to fillet the fish right away ... no room in the freezer for such a big one.  Neptune was paying back our good karma, I think, and Pen cooked up a wonderful recipe last night.

I changed lures after this, putting on a lure that had originally gotten us a Blue Runner a few weeks ago, and we then sailed on through the cuts and around Whale Cay.  Great fun being on the ocean again.  We agreed we both like that better than the Sea of Abaco, but we enjoy that immensely as well. ... When we got inside again and made a turn finally up toward Green Turtle Cay, we had another strike.  We're pretty sure it wasn't a snapper, but we lost it just as we got it up to the boat.  I had had to use only 30 pound leader, and whatever it was (maybe a Spanish Mackeral) bit through the line.  Having the dinghy hanging off the back and hardly able to see the fish at this last stage of landing it certainly didn't help.  Oh well, we've plenty of fish, more lures, and more days of sailing.   Whatever, we're doing pretty well.  We've caught a Blue Runner, three Mutton Snappers, four Yellow Tails (releasing two of them), and lost about three others, including this last one.  Not bad for sailors who are playing at fishing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Diving at the dock and sailing a schooner ...

It is May 11, and we are at a berth in Marsh Harbour Marina charging our batteries on shore power, washing the boat down, fueling, and taking long, nice fresh water showers.  It's a break before we start off to the northwest cays of the Abacos on Wednesday or Thursday.

On May 7, we left Lynyard Cay and sailed back to Hope Town, 19.2 nm in a little over 5 hours in winds ranging from 6 to 13 knots.  It was mostly downwind sailing, sometimes wing-on-wing, some times broad reaching, and turned to a close haul when we reached over from Boat Harbour on Abacos to the Turtle Cays just off Hope Town.  It was very, very thin water, and I think our keel slid over sand half the way into the anchorage which was about 5 feet deep. 

Now a word from Penelope:  We had a snack of sushi and a drink after we dropped anchor.  We still haven't perfected the sush rich, as it seems to dry out if we try to cool it, yet we love the sushi.  We then headed in to Hope Town for ice, and pulled in at Cap'n Jack's dinghy dock.  Just as I looked down from the dock to see which piling James wanted me to tie on to, he was throwing the dinhgy key into the drink!  Well, it came off his arm as he was heaving out the stern anchor.  You should have seen the look on his face as he said, "Oh shit!"

"I'll go for the ice," I said, which I did while he peeled down to his skivvies in front of all the waterside diners at Cap'n Jacks.  When I got back with the ice and stepped into the dinghy, he said "Don't step on my glasses down there," and he began to reach for them.  Then the panic look again: "Oh, my god!  I dove in with my glasses on??  I can't see them.  This isn't good!  ... pause ... Oh there they are."  They were in his shoes.  Poor, dripping wet, tired captain!

Next day, May 8, we awoked well rested and decided to sail up to Marsh Harbour, despite the fact that the winds were very light.  The routine is to raise the mainsail at anchor, then weigh anchor just using the engine to power the windlass, and then turn and sail off.  I raised the mainsail, realizing suddenly there was no weight on it.  Omigod!  The shackle had worked itself loose and I raised it almost up to the spreader.  (You were right Rob and Keith, I should have sprung for the bosin's chair in Oriental.)  Well, we motor sailed to Marsh Harbour with the genoa, anchored, and set off to buy a bosin's chair.  Alas, there was not one to be found, so we ultimately stopped by a catamaran anchored near us and borrowed a chair from them. 

Pen volunteered to go up the mast, since she weighs 120 to my 170 lbs., and I rigged the spare halyard back to the genoa sheet winch and lifted her easily with the right-angle drill (which essentially makes the winch electric powered).  It was almost with a mishap, as the line got jammed on the winch just as she reached the lose halyard, but she was able to attach that halyard to the chair and I lowered her on it enough to get slack to relieve the jam.  Then she came down easily with both halyards.  Smiles all around and another challenge met.  When we took the bosin's chair back we also took along an empty propane tank and got it filled up in town.  Then, we called it a day and relaxed until bedtime, with plans to do some shopping and more relaxing on Saturday, the day and night of the full moon.  Lot's of parties around, but we just watched the sky.

May 10, we spent the day as working crew on the schooner William H. Albury, invited do this by her captain Brian Harvey and his wife and first mate Sheree.  This was a Mothers' Day charter for local old-timers in the Abacos, and as an added plus Sheree's mother Sue was visiting from Illinois and crewed as well.  What a fun time, hoisting the sails, trimming, keeping all going well, setting anchor for some swimming and snorkeling, and then weighing it (by hand ... eight of us on the line doing the old heave-ho).  We got well fed by the guests, had a ball meeting people, and getting additional invitations to visit people in the next few weeks. 

Pen and I especially like Phoebe and David Gale who arrived in the Abacos in 1953 as newly weds, leased Turtle Cay from Queen Elizabeth II for 20 pounds a year, made all the improvements required by the lease, and ultimately bought it for almost nothing from the Queen when the Islands became independent.  David has started and runs the Bahamian Lighthouse Preservation Society, and he's written a wonderful book of his experiences in the islands in the early years entitled Ready About.  We are going down to Turtle Cay to visit them on Wednesday.

At the end of the day of sailing, the captain invited us for drinks at Curly Tails in the Conch Inn Marina, and we wound down the day.  That night we were too tired to really cook dinner, so I made grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, which Pen said were perfect.  Well, for sure, the day was perfect!!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Another snapper and more exploring...

Today we are sitting at anchor inside Lynyard Cay, close to Little Harbour, just a few miles as the crow flies from Hope Town.  We left Hope Town on May 2, after having a beer at the Hope Town Harbour Lodge and stopping for key lime pie at the Harbour's Edge.  We then motored 2.37 nm to Aunt Pat's Bay on Elbow Cay near White Harbour.

White Harbour is home to a Sea Spray Marina, which appears to cater to power boaters who come over to the Abacos for the fishing outside the Sea of Abaco.  We skirted the marina and went over to the Abaco Inn, where we had a drink and thought we might catch the Kentucky Derby on TV.  Alas, the derby was two hours from starting, so we bagged it and went back to Alizee for the night.  Next morning (May 3) we dinghied over to Cracker P's, a bar and restaurant on Lubber's Quarters famous for its full moon parties, had a nice lunch of fresh Wahoo, and then decided to sail to Tilloo Cay.

The anchorage we were aiming for was only a mile away as the crow flies, but the channel was narrow and the water thin and we wanted to sail.  So, we sailed out and around Lubbers Bank, a sand bank that stretches a couple of miles into the Sea of Abaco from Lubbers Quarters.  It was a nice downwind sail, and we turned port around the end of the bank to head back toward Tilloo Cay.  In our turn we confronted a 120-plus-foot power yacht, who saw us coming and then decided to stop right in our path (so he could pull in his tender).  We came within 50 meters of her, and I wasn't too happy about the encounter (nor was the yacht's skipper), but we waved and exchanged no epitaphs.

Going back toward Tilloo was mostly very tight on the wind, and we tacked two or three times and were always at a close haul.  I managed (much to Pen's joy) not to hit a sunken barge on the route, and 13.7 nm of sailing and three hours later we drifted into our anchorage at Tilloo Cay, where we settled in for the night and grilled a wonderful small rack of lamb.  It was the very best.

The winds in this part of the Sea of Abaco force you to either motor or do a lot of out of the way tacking.  We're really enjoying sailing, so the next morning (May 4) we sailed across the sea to Snake Cay, anchored and dinghied into some inlets to progue about for whatever we could see.  We found a lot of fish in and around the mangroves in the inlet, and then returned, had a sandwich for lunch and weighed anchor for a new anchorage further down Tilloo Cay, near a spot called Tilloo Pond.  We literally had to sail almost back to the point we departed, but the wind had shifted, so we got a nice broad reach down the inside of Tilloo Cay to our anchorage.
As we sailed this day, Pen commented that we'd run out of fresh fish and we wouldn't be able to have sushi appetizers at sundown, so naturally I threw out the fishing lure.  Seems like we catch an awful lot of grass, and I must have cleaned it off two or three times.  Just after we turned down the inside of Tilloo Cay, I removed some grass, threw it back, and as I became resigned to no fishing luck, we had a strike.  Pen couldn't reel it in at all, and I had a hell of a time, but gradually I eased a eight to ten pound Mutton Snapper to the boat, where Pen helped me land it with the gaff.  We sedated it with some cheap gin, and since it was much to big to put in the freezer, Pen proceeded to fillet it while I sailed Alizee to the anchorage, took down the sails and anchored us.  We are still eating on this wonderful fish, both sushi and baked snapper.

Yesterday (May 5) we sailed to a snorkeling spot at Sandy Cay, which meant sailing full downwind across the Sea of Abaco to get around the Tilloo Bank, an extensive sand bank.  Following Steve Dodge's Cruising Guide to Abaco, I thought we could take a route through a deeper part of the bank, but it turns out his recommendation was wrong.  As the water became thin, I turned back, but, alas, I was too late.  We found ourselves going downwind and aground in 2.9 feet of water.  I couldn't motor out nor turn Alizee, so I got in the dinghy, Pen lowered the anchor to me, and I took it out to set it for a kedge.  After one failed attempt, we set the anchor on the second try, and then I had to get the sails around so when we pivoted just a little we could start getting help from the wind to heel us.  We worked really good together as a team, Pen bringing in the anchor with the windlass, me at the helm and powering her to turn.  After about 25 minutes we were out, and most pleased that we didn't have to wait for five hours for high tide. 

Once back underway, we finished the sail through a deeper channel and anchored at Sandy Cay.  After lunch we dinghied over to the "coral garden" reef, moored the dinghy on a small boat mooring, and snorkeled for about 45 minutes.  The surge and current was pretty strong, so we didn't stay as long as we'd hoped, but it was really beautiful and fun to see a couple of large Mutton Snappers like the one's we'd been feasting on, as well as multitudes of other fish.

We finished our day by weighing anchor again and sailing down to our anchorage on Lynyard Cay.  All told, we sailed about 9 nm in 8-10 knots of wind in about three to four hours.  And despite the fact we were pretty worn out, we decided to dinghy a mile over to Pete's Pub in Little Harbour for a couple of drinks.  It's a great spot with lots of local color, and with an annual fishing tournament just starting the next day (today), there were lots of sport fishermen there already beginning to tell tall tales.  But we had fish to cook and a steak to cook, so we didn't tarry too long and returned to Alizee for surf and turf.  We are certainly eating well!

Today, by default, I guess we're just staying at anchor.  We've both done a bunch of crosswords, Pen's reading now, and I'm about to post this blog entry. We did make some sushi rice (12 hours of soaking, then steaming it), so we'll have sushi tonight ... but, darn, without nori, which we've used up.  Tomorrow we are going to start our way back up to Marsh Harbour rather than go on down to the Eleutheras.  We're really enjoying gunkholing, and We decided we want to crew for Brain and Sheree on the schooner William H. Albury (which, by the way is for sail).  So we'll get back to Marsh on Friday or Saturday for the Sunday sail with them.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Sailing, fishing, exploring, making new friends ...

... that’s what the cruising life is all about, and we’ve had a fine, fine time in the Sea of Abaco for the past several days.  Penelope arrived on April 24 which filled us both with enormous joy.  We busied ourselves around Marsh Harbour, getting a few last minute provisions, enjoying the folks at the Jib Room, the Marsh Harbour Marina restaurant, where I made sure that Pen met Mario, who bartends and more and is as well the Bahamian champion free diver, with a record of 180 feet.  It’s a challenge that I recognize immediately is not just physical, but an emotional and intellectual one … quite Zen, I think, in its exercise.  You really should visit Mario’s web site, PureApnea.
One of the other really nice things we did before departing Marsh Harbour was to have Brian and Sheree, captain and first mate of the classic, historical Bahamian schooner William H. Albury over to Alizee for dinner.  They brought some Mutton Snapper they had caught the day before, and we had rib-eye steak … we made a magnificent feast, drank lots of wine, and became very fast friends.  We have an invitation to sail with them as crew on a day sail on May 10, which I’d dearly love to do … crewing on a schooner!  But, I think we’ll be sailing down to the Eleutheras for a couple of weeks, and staying here until then would preclude that … well, we’ll see.

On April 26, we sailed to Guana Cay.  Our intention was to go to Man-O-War Cay, but the winds were so nice (15-20 knots), we wanted to sail, so we beam reached to North Man-O-War Channel and then turned port and broad-reached all the way to Guana, a total of about eight nautical miles in a little over two hours.  We anchored in Fisher’s Bay, right off Dive Guana’s docks, but it wasn’t smooth.  We initially put the anchor in grass and it dragged, so we weighed anchor but Pen had a hard time lifting it up.  In the process we snagged another sailboats rode (they had two anchors out in Bahamian anchor style, which was really unnecessary, but…).  We successfully freed ourselves and did not pull out their anchor … they were not aboard their boat and never knew.  Second time we anchored successfully.

We went ashore and at Dive Guana she bought herself fins, mask, and snorkel from Troy.  He was really helpful in picking out just the right stuff and the price was really reasonable (unlike so much else in the Bahamas).  Then we cleaned the bottom of the dinghy, which was really gunged up from being in the water in Marsh Harbour.  Fun, fun!!

The next day we went ashore for a nice walk past Orchid Bay Marina, where I harvested a lovely little tomato from an abandoned garden at a rental property (Pen says “stole” a tomato), and picked some flowers for her hair.  We wound up at the Pirates Cove, a sweet little sidewalk bar and restaurant, where we met the owner of Nipper’s, one of Guana Cay’s most well-known restaurant/pubs, and had a great conversation with him and another fellow who worked for the Bahamian telephone company … he’d come from Abaco to fix a public phone, and once done had to wait for a couple of hours for a ferry to take him back.  Tough life….

On April 28, we sailed to Man-O-War Cay.  Weighing anchor was a slow process, and I realized that something was not working smoothly with the windlass.  I discovered later that the clutch nut had loosened up; once tightened we had no more problems.  I’m getting pretty comfortable figuring out little glitches on the boat and with its mechanical systems.  Hope that keeps working.

Man-O-War Cay is a strange place.  We found some great boat building spots there, one where traditional wooden boats are still built using traditional methods and woods.  But the cay prohibits the sale of alcohol, so there are no good restaurants … only one that we could see, and a couple of ice-cream shops.  It’s not the sort of “cruising destination” I’ve ever expected.  Nice people, but very quiet.  Of course, we anchored out, as always, and had to dinghy in to the harbor, where only moorings were available and there was no room to anchor.

We left the next morning, heading for Hope Town on Elbow Cay, a few miles down the Sea of Abaco.  But I didn’t tack soon enough and we wound up going to a wonderful little quiet anchorage in a bay formed by Matt Lowe’s Cay (a private island), about a 2.5 nm sail.  We relished the privacy, and even though we couldn’t go ashore, we dinghied about and enjoyed it all.  Another boat, the same one who’s anchor line we’d snagged in Guana Cay, sailed in the waning hours of the day, and they anchored under sail, a nicely done maneuver.  We’ve been sailing off anchor almost every time, and I’m getting pretty confident about that … maybe anchoring under sail will be the next thing.

On April 30, we decided to sail over to Marsh Harbour, provision with wine and liquor and some food we wanted, dump garbage, and have lunch at the Jib Room.  We also connected with Brian and Sheree briefly, and they gave us some frozen Grouper of which they said they had too much.  Then we weighed anchor and sailed out of the harbor bound for Hope Town.  We had a great sail to the North Man-O-War Channel, then turned starboard and down the west side of Man-O-War Cay to Hope Town.

Thanks to Rob’s wonderful gift of a fine fishing reel and lures, we’ve been trailing a lure everywhere we’ve sailed, but except for the Blue Runner we caught on Pen’s first time on the boat a few weeks ago, we’ve had no luck.  We seem to pick up grass all the time, and I’m constantly clearing the lure of grass, which I did just after we turned starboard at North Man-O-War Channel … the best place to catch something trolling.  But three minutes after I put the lure back out we heard the strike!  Pen rushed over to get it and it was a big fish.  She couldn’t pull it in, so I started reeling it in while she got some cheap gin to pour in its gills, should we be so lucky as to land it.  It was a fighter, but when it swam up on the hook to lose it, I reeled in quickly and we landed it: a two foot, perhaps 5-7 lb Mutton Snapper.  Hooray!  Sushi tonight!!

We got our trophy on ice, jumped up and down in hooting celebration, and I sailed us right on to a shoal, well marked on the paper chart but not at all on the Navionics chart.  I got us out by heeling the boat on a beam reach and motoring … thank God it was sand, not mud … and we passed a couple of locals diving for conch right at the edge of the shoal.  So, that’s where they are finding them!  Ah ha!

We arrived finally at Hope Town around 18:00, a total sail this day of 14.5 nm.  Once anchored we got out our prize and Pen filleted it on the poop deck, seagulls finding us immediately and making an amazing racket.  I made us a couple of sushi rolls … I’ve got a lot of practicing to do to get it right … and it was absolutely wonderful!
Today, May 1, we had a fine breakfast of sausage patties, eggs, and toast, cleaned off the salt from the exterior teak and stainless with fresh water, and then we went into town and explored , first stop, the famous Hope Town lighthouse.

Built in 1863 (or 1864, depending on the source) by the British Imperial Lighthouse Service, it is still running on a kerosene lamp shining through a Fresnel  lens.  Not only is it a gorgeous lighthouse, distinctively painted with red and white stripes, but it is a piece of technological history that lives and breathes.  It’s beam can be seen from 17 miles away, and it was indeed the first light that we saw making our crossing down from Beaufort, North Carolina, two months ago.  Pen and I climbed to the top, 101 steps, and got the most panoramic views of Hope Town and the nearby Abacos.
Afterwards we dinghied around Hope Town harbour and ultimately tied up at one of the public docks next to Cap’n Jacks bar and restaurant.  We wandered the streets of this truly quaint town … it reminds me a lot of Carmel, California, in the 1950s, when I went down with my mother and father to a cottage that my mother had inherited just off Ocean Avenue.   We walked up “Lover’s Lane” to the Atlantic side, then down to the Hope Town museum … a lovely little spot, done with lots of local flavor and not bad at that … then finally, after looking in several little boutiques and a couple of other shops, we had a great appetizer meal of lobster bisque, sweet potato chips, and Key Lime pie at Cap’n Jacks.

We finally dinghied back to the boat, napped, read, and finally made a sushi roll and then Pen cooked a wonderful dinner from a large fillet of our Snapper.  It’s hard to explain why this is so full and wonderful, but cruising is a “laid back” experience … it’s got to be lived, I think to really get it.

More photos (to come when I have faster internet connection)