Rock Sound, Bahamas to Lake Worth, FL
April 2nd – It was time to explore another Bahamian grocery store and we had heard that the Rock Sound market was better stocked than many. This was true, although the selection of fruits and vegetables always depends on when the last boat with provisions arrived. As with many of the stores, most of the supply comes from the States, with the additional cost of handling and shipping tacked on. Since most Bahamians are just getting by, food must be a major expense in their budget. About noontime we made an excursion to the food booths that had been set up for the local “Family Reunion” festival. The Captain purchased a tasty “jerked” pork but everyone else thought the ice cream was the real reason to visit. Returning to our boats, we pulled up the anchors and moved about a mile north in the harbor. Our anchorage had been right off the beach where the reunion was being held and we were warned that the expected music was going to be deafening. In the evening the crews of Emerald City, Pathfinder and Sundance V returned to the food booths to collect meals “to go.” By picking up our orders around 6 PM, we were avoiding the expected crowd for the evening festivities. In the late evening the Captain drifted off to sleep with the opening speeches of the ceremony in the background. Just in case, he put in earplugs. An hour or so later he woke to a din that could only be described as a band setting up its speakers in Pathfinder’s cockpit. The new anchorage a mile away and OSHA approved earplugs probably dampened the vibrations, but they were no challenge for the cacophony that was blasting forth from the Rock Sound Family Reunion Festival. Obviously the town should have been named LOUD ROCK SOUND. All good things must come to an end, and by 0200 on April 3rd things were definitely winding down. The good news for the party hearty types on Eleuthera was that there were going to be two more nights of music. The good news for Pathfinder and friends was that there was going to be a new harbor much further north.
Governors Harbor Beach
April 3rd – the crews of the three boats made a groggy start at 0800 but a beautiful sail powered them 30 miles north to Governors Harbor. The Captain had heard nothing but bad news about the holding ground in Governors but Ross of Sundance V explained that the secret is to nose in as close to the sandy beach off the town as you dare and drop your anchor in the sand, not the grass covered bottom that is everywhere else. Governor’s
Governors Harbor Hillside
looks like a cross between Bermuda and the Bahamas, with a little Cape May thrown in for good measure (okay, very little). Its name comes from the fact that it was an early seat of the Bahamian government in the 1700’s. A walk was taken ashore and several of us observed a plaque in a hidden plot in town that honors the first Bahamian U.S. consulate established on the spot in 1787. If a friendly local had not pointed this out it would have been easily missed as it was in the back corner of a very small and old stone foundation. The plaque was installed in 2007. We passed by the Anglican Church, that according to Ross was built in the style normally found in the English countryside,
and heard the congregation singing the last of the Good Friday hymns. The reason Governors Harbor has a Bermuda feel is the fact that many of the buildings are brightly colored and are on the steep hillside that surrounds the harbor. Cape May comes to mind from a few Victorian homes at the foot of the hill. We walked around the town and up and over the hills and down to an unpretentious ocean resort on the Atlantic side of Eleuthera. There were a number of private vacation homes en route and it is obvious that well healed North Americans and Europeans have been coming to this spot for quite some time. After lots of walking along beaches and up and down the hills, a good night’s sleep was enjoyed by all, especially after the concert the previous night in Rock Sound. The local “fish fry” shack was jumping but it could not keep any of our sailors awake.
Helping with the Dinghies
Governors Harbor Home
April 4th – We awoke pre-dawn to the sound of a preacher or preachers telling sinners to repent and to make way for the Lord. They were loud and obviously trying to get the attention of the folks who had stayed up late at the “fish fry.” There was competition however, as the local rooster population was putting up such a din that we couldn’t tell exactly what the preachers were saying. After breakfast we motored the dinghies over to one of the strangest craft I have ever seen. It was tied to a mooring and was actually a raft with a small “Quonset” hut type of structure in the middle and a mast with a cross tree for setting a single square sail such as one would see on a clipper ship. This remarkable structure was sailed by an 84 year old man and a few buddies from the Canary Islands to St. Marten in the Caribbean (see http://www.governorsharbourvacationrentals.com/best-of-eleuthera-adventures-of-the-antiki-raft/). So honest are the Bahamians that valuable gear has been left untouched and the lock on the cabin door remains undisturbed, even though the raft broke free of its
Antiki – It crossed the Atlantic!
mooring and washed ashore this February before being re-secured. We departed in mid-morning and had a motoring trip up the coast of Eleuthera. Our destination was Hatchet Bay Pond, proclaimed to be the “most protected harbor in the Bahamas.” Along the way a radio call came in from Emerald City letting us know that the main course for Easter dinner had been reeled aboard. It was a good-sized “Spanish mackerel,” reputed to be one of the better tasting fish of tropical waters (unlike the mackerel caught in Maine, this is a large fish with white, non-oily flesh). Arriving at Hatchet Bay Pond, we would certainly agree that it would be hard to find a more protected harbor anywhere. The pond was landlocked until a business venture intent on shipping cattle
Cut into Hatchet Bay Pond
from the area decided to blast a hole in the limestone cliff and make a connection to the ocean. It is a very narrow, but very deep opening, and the pond is deep enough to allow large cargo boats in and out. Unfortunately the cattle exporting scheme died long ago and apart from a regularly scheduled cargo boat from Nassau, primarily yachtsmen and Bahamian fishermen in small boats use the port. We set the anchor in the sandy bottom and the Captain used the afternoon to change out the transmission and engine oil, while the Admiral sniffed out a laundry way down the road. Reports were that the town was a bit hardscrabble, but with the usual friendly Bahamian folks.
April 5th – The Admiral had heard of an Easter Sunrise Service to be held ashore. At 0245 she was up and starting to bustle about when the Captain informed her that she was a bit early. So after an hour or so of staring at the overhead, the crew went to sleep only to awaken a bit too late to make it ashore for the service. Nonetheless, Pathfinder’s crew piled into the rubber dinghy and rowed quietly to the center of the harbor to view the rising sun amongst a chorus of roosters. A few Reese’s peanut butter cups were deposited in the cockpits of Emerald City and Sundance V in the absence of chocolate eggs. Later that morning, Shelby agreed to be winched to the top of Pathfinder’s mast to see if the
problem with the VHF radio reception could be identified. She reported all to be well 50 feet above the water, and after making sure the antenna wire connector was in good shape she was lowered to the deck. Shelby is up for any challenge, and being by far the lightest of all the sailors in the group, she was a great choice for the job! A walk was taken ashore in Alice Town, which is the actual name of the village along Hatchet Bay. We were enticed into a well-maintained and colorful restaurant named “Twin Brothers,” that had been featured at some point on CBS television according to the promotions posted about. We were not ready for a meal, but mango sorbet was offered and we couldn’t turn that down. It was so cold that it burned the throat going down, but we soon recovered on this 80-degree Easter. Dinner was aboard Sundance V, and the main course, what Lee deemed the “Holy Mackerel,” was grilled aboard Emerald City and transported via dinghy. It was an Easter feast that will not be forgotten. Shelby made real mash potatoes, Gail made salad, and Rosemary topped it all off with key lime pie!
April 6th – Emerald City and Sundance elected to sail for the quiet and well protected anchorage at Royal Island located west of the northern tip of Eleuthera. Even closer to Eleuthera was Pathfinder’s destination, Spanish Wells, which is home to a fairly prosperous community that is supported by the largest fishing fleet in the Bahamas. After leaving Hatchet Bay, Pathfinder sailed close to the shoreline in order to view the “Glass Window,” a section of Eleuthera that was so narrow that it had been knocked down by
Eleuthera’s Glass Window
waves from the Atlantic side of the island. The “window” is crossed over by a small bridge, however there are days when high seas force the road to be closed, thus isolating the bottom two thirds of the island. Since a number of Eleutherans work at the resorts of Harbor Island and on Spanish Wells, this can be a problem. From the Glass Window we sailed to “Current Cut,” a well-named slot that is between long Current Island and a point of land from Eleuthera. The cut needs to be approached with caution due to shallow banks on the approach, and most vessels try to make the transit when the tide flow is at a minimum. Judging by the number of vessels passing the cut when we approached, we all had the same idea of when slack water would be. We passed through the slot without incident and then set sail for Spanish Wells in a strengthening easterly. The mainsail eventually was reefed and we were happy to enter the narrow and congested harbor. The lobster season had just ended on March 31st, so the fleet was in. They provide most of the lobster sold in the “Red Lobster” chain across the United States. The lobster tails are processed and frozen in Spanish Wells after being landed from vessels that cover the entire Bahamian archipelago as their fishing grounds, but primarily cays and banks to the far south. The vessels appeared to be more like draggers in New England, and bore no resemblance to the lobster boats of the Maine Coast. We wound our way around the narrow harbor to an even narrower slot where a number of moorings are maintained for yachtsmen. One mooring was empty at the head of this narrow arm of relatively deep water. With the wind blowing hard from the east, which was protected only by a sand bank, it was a tricky maneuver to pick up the mooring pennant as there was very little room for error. A fellow on one of the other boats jumped in his dinghy and zipped to the mooring to hold the pennant up for the Admiral. Unfortunately the short pennant required a line from the boat and we were unprepared and had to make another pass. The Captain managed to avoid grounding out by a few feet, and as he was making the turn the man holding the pennant said “I used to spend my summers on Bustins Island!” This was news, as our son-in-law Andy Pease grew up summers on Bustins, and his mother Annalee maintains a beautiful cottage there overlooking Casco Bay. Around the moored boats we went and made a successful mooring on the second pass. By the time the Captain got up the bow, Bill Roy had introduced himself to the Admiral, and said yes, he knew Annalee very well as well as a number of the rest of the Tozier family. Bill now single-hands a large Jenneau sloop with his cat for company. Originally from Massachusetts, he has lived in Seattle and California, but now his boat “Providence” is home. Although a single-hander, he was obviously a very social person, and informed us that “all the cruisers” gathered at
Bill Roy and the Admiral at Buddah’s
“Buddah’s,” a new place on Spanish Wells since we landed two years ago. The “happy hour” drinks were $3, which is cheap for anywhere, but especially the Bahamas. So after storing things way and taking a rest after the hard sail, we found ourselves headed ashore with Bill and heading up the hill to Buddah’s. Sure enough, there was a group of cruisers about, including a family from Montreal that we had met in Little Farmer’s Cay. The kids were working on cheeseburgers and seemed pretty pleased with what they found. The Admiral and Captain met a number of others, including a more senior couple from Montreal who had just met the young family from Le Second. This allowed the Admiral to practice a bit of her French with a few Spanish words mixed in to keep things interesting. We all ended up ordering burgers and swapped sea stories. The bar was hopping with a number of locals and a few vacationing tourists mixed in. As the evening wore on it was evident that the senior lady from Montreal had been enjoying the happy hour. In fact, she was very jolly when she sidled up next to the Captain and demanded a kiss, with all looking on. The Captain tried to make her happy with a peck on the cheek, but she was having none of that. She kept demanding a kiss until she decided the Captain was not going to grant her wish, at least to the extent that she desired, and she pronounced to everyone that the Captain was too shy. Fortunately, the burgers had been consumed by this point and Bill announced that it was time to head back to the boats before it was too dark. The Admiral and Captain were happy to take his lead, and staying off the sandbars, we safely made it back to Pathfinder with another sea story in our kit.
April 7th – The Admiral was dropped off on shore for a run to the grocery store and to search for the laundry while the Captain stayed busy emptying and then filling the water jugs ashore at the lobster processing plant, where R.O. water could be purchased. The water, for which Spanish Wells is named, is not the best tasting but it does keep the
Opening Day in Spanish Wells
gardens green. The reverse osmosis (RO) water is desalinated seawater, and is perfect for drinking or any other use. As written before in the blog, most of the small Bahamian cays depend on RO water. Lugging the water jugs to the dinghy, motoring out to Pathfinder, hoisting the 5 gallon jugs aboard, then syphoning them to the water tanks, makes one appreciate drinking and bathing water a bit more than you do at home when opening the faucet. In late morning, the chores were completed and we dropped the mooring pennant and headed for the fuel dock. We tied up at 1203, only to see the shades pulled in the office. A friendly Yank subsequently informed us that it was lunch hour and the proprietors would be back at 1300. The friendly fellow was spending time at his vacation home on Harbor Island, which is located on the east side of north Eleuthera, and a place we had visited two years ago. He was from Connecticut, owned an Alden 44 sloop and had sailed in the Newport-Bermuda race four times. He had never cruised the Bahamas, so was full of questions for us. At 1300 the fuel attendant arrived and shortly thereafter we motored the short run to Royal Island harbor and dropped anchor beside Emerald City and Sundance V. The plans were made for a voyage across the deep water of Northeast Channel to the Berry Cays.
April 8th – The Berry Cays, known to all as “The Berries,” is a group of islands that lie about halfway between Grand Bahama to the north and New Providence (home of Nassau) to the south. To the southwest is the large island of Andros and to the west of the Berries is the Grand Bahama Bank. So this was a new destination, but first we had a 50-mile run across the deep ocean water of Northwest Channel. The wind was a moderate 10-15 knots, but it was dead astern, which is a hard angle for sailing. Fortunately Pathfinder is equipped with a “whisker” pole, which allows the jib to be held out on the opposite side from the mainsail and allows the vessel to sail “wing and wing.” This we did and Pathfinder was happy with the arrangement as we clicked off the miles. Emerald City
hoisted their emerald green spinnaker and kept it up hour after hour. We all arrived at the cut between Devils and Hoffman Cays a little after 1600. A number of boats were anchored just inside this entrance, but Ross had told us that the best anchorages were to the south. Unfortunately there was some very shallow water that had to be negotiated first, and it was dead low tide at our arrival. Since Sundance V had been here before, Ross led the way, hugging a small cay as close as possible as it was very evident by “reading the water” that this is where the deep depths lay. Soon after rounding the top of the island, Sundance came to a stop and started to drop the anchor. Ross announced that they were aground, but Pathfinder, with a foot less draft, was free to continue on. So by watching the water colors for the deepest path we wound our way on and watched the depth sounder readings descend past 5 to 4 and eventually to 3.5, which means we should have been aground, but since the transducer is about 8-10 inches below the waterline, it meant we probably were afloat with 1 to 2 inches to spare. Since there was just Bahamian sand below us, we didn’t feel too threatened, but it was a relief when we finally reached the
Reading the Water
designated anchorage off of Devil Cay and dropped the hook in 7 feet of water. Emerald City draws about 4.5 feet, about halfway between Pathfinder and Sundance V. That was still too much and they ended up aground too. Fortunately the rising tide really does lift all boats, and several hours later, Pathfinder was joined at anchor by its buddies.
April 9th – There was a bit of surge in our anchorage during the night due to a small reef strewn cut between Devil Cay and another small cay just to the north. At Ross’s suggestion we wound our way (at half tide this time) to an anchorage off of Little Harbor Cay to our south. There were no groundings this time and the afternoon was spent exploring the paths and beaches of Little Harbor Cay. We found a curious and apparently abandoned facility facing the east and the deep water. There were a number of very sturdy tables and benches under an open-air roof and several small buildings that were obviously used to prepare and serve food. There were a number of very large plastic tanks that had been used to store water and the down spouts from the roofs of the buildings fed into several of these. A wooden box was mounted high at one end under the roof and with an electrical connection running to it, it may have been used to hold a video display of some kind. The buildings all had padlocks, but by the rust on them it was obvious that they had not been entered for a number of years. There were no other habitations in sight and the only residence we know of is several miles down on the southern end of the island. If only buildings could talk! Pathfinder’s crew had a decision to make. It was approaching the middle of April, when we needed to cross back to Florida and start making our way north. We could sail north to Grand Bahama Island, which would entail another 50-mile open water crossing, and take a marina berth near Freeport and wait for a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream. It appeared there could be an opening early in the next week. The second option was leave the next day, but that would entail a longer voyage by sailing around the southern end of the Berries and crossing the Grand Bahama Bank and then setting a course northwest across the Gulf Stream to Lake Worth (the Palm Beach area) on the Florida Coast. The total run was 160 miles and the weather on the Gulf Stream was predicted to be mild. Our rough Gulf Stream crossing two years ago taught us to look for the best possible weather window, so the decision was made to depart early the next morning. One more gathering was held in Pathfinder’s cockpit. Toasts were made to the successful, if windy cruising season this winter in the Bahamas. We filled in a large number of new cays and anchorages on our personal chart that had been missed two years ago. They included Normans, Shroud, Hawksbill, Big Darby, and Lee Stocking Cays in the Exumas. All of the harbors on Eleuthera were new to us, as well as the Devils-Hoffmans area of the Berries. We didn’t make it to some of the “Out Islands,” such as Cat, but some year in the future we might be back! So we said our farewells to Ross and Rosemary, as well as Lee and Shelby, although that turned out to be a bit premature.
April 10th – Pathfinder’s crew was underway with half tide at 0930 and wound our way back the way we had come in. With extra water under the keel, and the GPS “bread crumbs” (track that showed the history of our way in) we had no trouble getting back into the deep water. Sundance V and Emerald City opted to explore more shallow water to the south but the Admiral and Captain were now horses heading for the barn. The wind stayed east, and as we rounded the southern end of the Berries it was once again, dead astern. Once again the whisker pole was deployed and we sailed “wing and wing.” The seas were large enough astern that they caused us to roll and pitch, so it was not a smooth ride. Via our VHF radio (now using a back-up antenna) we heard that Sundance V and Emerald City had successfully run their shallow route. A bit later we heard from Lee that he and Shelby had decided to run the Banks and cross the Gulf Stream, so we decided not to rush our Bank crossing in hopes that they would catch up. In the late afternoon Pathfinder crossed through the Northwest Channel and onto the Grand Bahama Bank. The water went from over thousand feet to 15 to 30 feet in about a mile. Usually the shallow water of the Bank knocks down the seas. It did diminish the swell but the chop from the easterly sea stayed up and kept us rolling. As it became dark we took down all sail and started to motor, hoping that would improve the motion. It did a little, but the noise of the engine made it tough for the “off watch” to catch any sleep. The Admiral and Captain were now taking two-hour stretches at the wheel. The autopilot that had worked so well on the trip from Bimini to Nassau, now could not hold course with the following seas. Finally at 2200 the Captain rolled out the jib and shut down the engine. By tacking downwind (zig-zagging) with just the jib we could sail at 4 to 5 knots across the 60 miles of the Bank and this allowed a chance for Emerald City to catch up.
April 11th – Emerald City did catch up in the wee hours of the morning. Our plan was to exit the Bank and into the deep water at daybreak, but the outflowing current off the Banks had other plans. Even with the engines shut down and reduced sail, we passed to starboard the tall and unlit lighthouse of Great Isaac in the dark, while the reefs named “Hens and Chickens” lay on the port hand. This is something we would have never done without the aid of GPS. The engines were started and we now aimed for a speed that would bring us to Lake Worth Inlet by the end of the afternoon. Sea conditions were sloppy to say the least. The wind was light southeast, but there were wave trains from the Banks, Northwest Channel, and the Gulf Stream all converging. We hung on and headed northwest. About noontime we entered the main axis of the Gulf Stream and saw our speeds shoot up to 8 knots. A few rain showers were about, but nothing threatening, and the crossing was a far cry from the one we experienced with Emerald City on April Fool’s Day, 2013. At 1400, the first buildings of the Florida Coast hove into sight, and at 1500 we entered the inlet as every imaginable type of motorized craft seemed intent on crossing our bow and sending us the largest wake possible. It was a Saturday, so not unexpected. It still wasn’t appreciated. Fortunately there is an anchorage just south of the entrance in Lake Worth that is slightly off the beaten track and where the sailboats all seem to gather. A few of the more rude boat operators came blasting by within feet, but for the most part the anchorage is a bit of an oasis. With the anchor down we made our call to U.S. Customs. Thanks to pre-registering before our 2013 voyage, our data was still on file and we were able to clear in via the phone. We were able to sail over half of the 160 miles and used approximately 8 gallons of fuel from the time we left the Berry Cays. Lee and Shelby rowed over for a last cockpit gathering and post crossing discussion, but were soon back to Emerald City and bed before the sunset. The Admiral was asleep by 7:30, but the Captain held fast for another hour. It was a very quiet Saturday night in the Lake Worth anchorage.