On our last day in Exuma Park we hiked to Boo Boo Hill to add ‘2011’ to our sign. I did a sloppy job with nail polish but now it’s suitably documented!
We were here
My favorite view from Boo Boo Hill
I love this view!
Curly tail lizard
A curly tailed lizard stands guard. (His tail is not curly because he probably lost it and it’s growing back.)

We left the Exumas last Sunday and are now in West End at the Old Bahama Bay marina.  We completely bypassed Eleuthera and the Abacos!  It was a long overnight trip from Allen’s Cay at the north end of the Exumas through the Fleming Channel and up the Northwest Providence Channel.  We left at 6 am in the morning and arrived at West End around 11 am Monday.  I added a line to our route map to give you a general idea of our course.

Overnight trips are not my favorite choice but we were concerned about all of the weather windows we’d have to wait for if we went our usual route.  The weather pattern has shifted in the past few weeks to stronger north and easterly winds that stay for several days.  By taking this route, we covered in 30 hours what might have taken a week or more!

Leaving Warderick Wells on Sunday morning we passed through a little squall that produced a beautiful rainbow showing us the way north.  We arrived at Norman’s Cay just before noon and went ashore to have lunch at the Beach Club.  What a fun place and the food was really good–we definitely need to stop there again.  Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera with me so there’s no documentation of our visit.
Rainbow leaving Warderick Wells

We continued north and anchored in Allen’s Cay, famous for it’s beach full of iguanas.  We stayed aboard the boat and watched the go-fast tour boats from Nassau arrive and disgorge pasty white, bikini-clad, camera toting tourists who tormented the iguanas for about 20 minutes before they all climbed back on the boat.  I couldn’t believe the number of small children running after the poor creatures.  I’m sure there are a lot of people who get bitten by iguanas–they’re not exactly petting zoo creatures!
Allen's Cay

Allen's Cay anchorage
Allen’s Cay Anchorage

We left just before dawn the next morning and watched yet another spectacular sunrise in the Bahamas.  Motoring north about 25 miles we came through the Fleming Channel without any problems.  It’s a shallow area sprinkled with coral heads to be avoided.  I stood on deck to spot them and direct Skip which way to go.  The water was so calm and clear.  I will miss seeing the sea bottom once we leave the Bahamas.

Sunrise - leaving Allen's Cay
Sunrise leaving Allen’s Cay
Watching for coral heads
Watching for coral heads
Distant coral head to be avoided
The distant dark patch is a coral head. You can’t tell how high they are so you need to steer around them.
Clear water coming through the Fleming Channel
I will miss seeing the sea bottom…

There were many large ships about as we approached the Nassau area.   At some point, Skip realized that our AIS receiver wasn’t working.  The AIS receives signals from ships and tells us, among other things, where they are headed and if we’re going to cross courses.   He went below and fiddled around with the electrical connections without any luck.  Some time later, I noticed that the AIS data was back.  We don’t know what happened but were very glad to have it as we passed numerous cruise ships and tankers that night.  You can see them in the dark but it’s very difficult to determine where they’re headed.  With AIS, you know the ship’s name and can call them on the radio to ask if they see us and if we need to change course.  Otherwise, you’re just calling “ship near coordinates blah blah blah” and they probably won’t answer.

We saw about 5 or 6 cruise ships at night.  Near dawn they were hovering near Freeport waiting to dock.  Skip stayed up most of the night listening to his MP3 player.  I spelled him every few hours for a while.  I don’t do good at night when the boat is bouncing around.  Even though there seemed to be enough wind, we had the motor running because the swells were just enough to keep the boat on a steady course.  Also, once we reached the Northwest Providence Channel we had a very strong current against us.  For a while we were only doing 4.5 knots.  Once the tide changed we picked up to 7-8 knots–much better!

We arrived in West End exhausted and happy to tie up and rest.  Actually, the weather was okay for us to continue to Florida but we just didn’t have another 10 hours in us.  Besides, once you’re really tired you run the risk of making stupid mistakes.  It’s not worth it to push ahead when you know you should stop.

Old Bahama Bay is still a lovely place. The grounds, pool and beach are beautiful. We had hoped to see Lady of Lorien here but heard from them though email that they were heading straight from Great Sale to Lake Worth and not stopping here. We hope to catch up with them in St. Augustine.
We heard from Onward and they’re still enjoying the southern Bahamas.

After a good night’s rest I did 4 loads of laundry. It was the first time since Emerald Bay so we had several sets of sheets and towels. We also started cleaning up the boat; using unlimited fresh water for the first time in 3 months. The marina has a mandatory $15/day charge for water. Basically, we subsidizing the sport fishing boats that get cleaned every day. Anyway, as long as we have to pay for it, it will go to good use!

By the way, we learned something new this year. Anyone planning to spend time in the Abacos should join the Royal Marsh Harbor Yacht Club. You can’t view the benefits on their web page unless you’re a member but we’ve heard that the marinas offer great deals to members. We will definitely join before returning to the Bahamas.

We met some really nice folks here. Nick is single-handing a Hunter 38 back to Ontario. It’s not his boat (long story) and he’s a sport fisherman in real life with very interesting fishing stories. Skip shared weather information with him as he was planning to leave on Thursday when Chris Parker was expecting severe squalls. (Turned out to be an excellent decision…) In return, Nick gave us some beautiful frozen fish!

We also met Sue and Tony on a Gemini from Annapolis. Turns out they’re the former founders and owners of Performance Cruising. He designed and built Gemini’s for the past 30 years and has some great sailing stories. Now they’re trying out cruising on one of their boats. They are also from Ipswich, England!

I had just finished cleaning the cockpit yesterday afternoon when the skies turned dark and ugly. The storm came up pretty sudden — just after one of the dock guys ran by informing us of a tornado warning. Skip had taken Bailey for a short walk when the storm hit. The wind was blowing so hard that he couldn’t get back on the boat. I hunkered down below while he waited in one of the buildings. Our wind gauge wasn’t reading speed but a neighbor boat saw close to 4o knots.

Just after the storm blew through bedraggled boats started arriving at the marina. How could people be out there in that??!! They must not have heard the same weather reports we heard.   A 50ft Lagoon catamaran was anchored just off the marina in a spot marked ‘poor holding’ on the charts. He came into the marina basin during the storm after they saw 50 knot winds and their anchor started dragging.

Another small sailboat came in with 3 men aboard. They lost their electronics during the storm. A large ketch came in with a shredded head sail.  They were in the bad weather for 4 hours. The crews on these boats looked shell-shocked. A large Hatteras motor boat was towing a small runabout when the 1 1/2 inch towing line snapped. I heard that a guy went in the water to re-attach a line. I don’t think any boat is worth risking your life to save it! Finally, a double masted Freedom sailboat with an elderly couple on board came in just before dark with broken davits and missing dinghy. Their bow-spirit was also damaged (from a previous anchoring disaster) and their rudder was damaged. Those poor folks are heading back after only making it to Spanish Cay and having terrible experiences along the way.

Bottom line: We have a lot of respect for the weather, wind and sea conditions here in the Bahamas. People who rely on their coastal experience and not good weather-routing advice can run into serious trouble. I think you’re better off not trying to meet a schedule and waiting for better weather conditions.

That said, we’re waiting until Sunday to leave when the seas and the wind are predicted to calm down. We’re also doing daylight trips.  Our first stops will be Lake Worth and then Vero Beach. I’m looking forward to being back in America…(Can’t wait to turn my Blackberry on!!)