Posted by: catamarantwooceans | March 18, 2016

Sailing the Bahamas

17.3.16 – Thursday – At first light we left the marina and motored out towards the open sea. The feeling was that of release and freedom. The sea and wind were calm and in order to get to Bimini, 49 miles away, both engines were in operation. We trolled a line wishing for Mahi Mahi but caught a small bonito which Gili designated as Ceviche material. After eight and a half hours we turned into the North Bimini Island channel. There are six marinas in North Bimini, the first two as you come in are Brown’s marina and then Weech’s dock. We called both on the VHF and none answered but a young man on the Weech’s dock motioned us in. Kimani helped us tie up and then brought the entry procedures paperwork.

Before going to the relevant offices, we sat down for beers in Big John bar and restaurant adjacent to the marina. The local beer is called Kalik and its price was a surprising(for someone spoilt by 1$ beers in Panama) 7.5$ for the bottle.

Custom and immigration were quick and efficient. You get a twelve months cruising and fishing permit for 300$ and I understand that during the first 90 days you can do multiple entries.

After dinner I sat down to plan an itinerary for our trip. Giving up the Cayman Islands section made it possible to cruise the Bahamas at leisure, although we would have to do at least one overnight leg.

18.3.16 – Friday – In the spirit of leisure we motored south to an anchorage near South Cat Cay. Getting there took three hours and as we dropped anchor we felt the unpleasant chop that the 10 knots southerly wind caused. We quickly turned around to Honeymoon harbour on the north of Gun Cay, which was much nicer and better protected. We launched our new SUP and paddled around the bay.

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A small yacht and some day-charter motorboats left in the evening and we had the place for ourselves.

19.3.16 – Saturday – To get to our next destination – the Berry Island – we had to cross 75 miles of the Great Bahama Bank, a big body of very shallow waters. Define shallow: the leg we chose to sail had depths between 2 and 5 meters. It is also a place where you want good light so a pre-dawn departure was not considered. We decided to split the leg in two and just anchor somewhere in the middle in shallow but open water. So,  at 0830 we went out, crossed the Gun Cut between Gun and North Cat Island and followed the recommended route on the charts. Speaking of charts – we did not think our electronic ones were good enough and in addition to the Waterways Guide for the Bahamas we bought the Maptech chart kit which turned out  to be an excellent choice.

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                                     lighthouse on Gun Cay

The chart-kit shows recommended routes and some of them are named VNN, that’s “visual navigation needed” to let you know that you cannot just sail or motor nonchalantly along them but need to be on the lookout for reefs and shallows. Once we were established on the route towards the Berrys we had to keep motorsailing because the wind was to close to open the jib. The forecast, which indicated that around 1400 it will veer, came true; we could open the jib, shut the engines down and sail east at around 7 knots. The wind veered some more and strengthened, the plotter showing that we could continue to Chub Cay and reach it by 8 p.m. The guide says that there were good anchorages near the very expensive marina, to which the approach is well marked and lit. We decided to go on.

Fourteen miles to the entrance the bottom suddenly sank to triple digit values and at the same time the wind abated; we had to use the engines once again. Trying to furl the jib was difficult since the old rope was replaced and the new one was of larger diameter and blocked the furler. I went forward to pull it by hand. Although the moon was up at more than half it was getting dark, I was happy I entered the waypoints to the entrance into the plotter. Just before turning in we lowered the mainsail and right as we turned the port engine quit. I tried to start it unsuccessfully and continued on the single engine. Poseidon had the last word for the day by sending an ocean wave to break on our starboard topsides, drenching Gili all over.

Approaching the entrance we only saw two green lights and none of the reds I expected; Gili was using the binoculars and suddenly shouted:”There is a pole ahead!”, I turned away, taking the binocs and saw that the marks were on poles, the red one not operating. We could see a few yacht’s anchor lights and went in that direction to anchor at 15 minutes past eight p.m.

Maintenance delayed to the morrow.

20.3.16 – Sunday – At 0430 I was awakened by the call of nature. Looking outside I became a bit disorientated; it blew 20 knots and for a moment I thought that we were dragging anchor. The reason was that the wind backed, all yachts turned and those which were behind us came abeam. Although I realized the situation and made certain that we were not moving back, I decided to stay on deck for anchor watch. A bit after five a.m. the wind abated and let me get back to bed.

When the real morning came there were a few maintenance jobs to complete. I checked the port engine, found that it needed some cooling fluid. Filled it, started up, engine operating just fine. We took the dinghy to look at Chub cay marina and resort. The place is huge. The guide book says it has 110 berths but it looks much bigger, especially due to the fact that the number of vessels inside seems to be around 15% of the full capacity. A cruiser anchoring near us said they charged 4$ per foot per day; in Bimini it was less than a buck per foot.

The forecast was for winds from the north so we searched the chart for a suitable bay. We found it in Frazer Hog Cay, near the Berry Island club where, according to the guide we would be able to find “moorings, dockage, water, laundry, fuel, WiFi and a restaurant”. We rather liked the idea of a meal on shore and actually NEEDED internet, since the data bundle I bought from BTC, the local COMM provider, did not give internet access for some reason. We went out for an unsuccessful short fishing run and turned towards Frazer Hog. No waypoints except the entry point were given; it was VNN (Visual navigation needed) again . I thought I was to get relatively close to shore to avoid the shallows but getting to a point where the depth was only 4 feet I turned back.

Just as we were going out we saw a monohull entering under sail. Surely the skipper has “local knowledge” to be able to do it. I called him up on VHF and he said he was familiar with the entrance. He also let us know that the Berry Club was out of business for a few months, so there goes our dream of a restaurant meal, mooring and internet. We followed him in, clicking on the plotter to save waypoints for the way back and found a good spot at 1.4 meters over sand. Camelot, that was the mono’s name, dropped theirs on weedy bottom and promptly dragged. After a few tries they went deeper into the bay where presumably they found the right location.

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                                Camelot leading

Going ashore for a walk, we came up to the club and could see that a lot of money was invested there. Looking at their dock it seemed we could have tied up there easily.

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                                        Abandoned resort

There was talk of strong winds from the north (50 m.p.h was mentioned) thunderstorms and lightning. As I write this at 2145 the wind is 5 knots from the west, a precursor of a northerly here. I hope the velocity would not change!

21.3.16 – Monday – During the night the wind veered and became northwesterly, blowing 20 knots, it also rained a bit. Our planned destination, Nassau, on New Providence Island, lay almost exactly down wind. The overcast skies brought about a gloomy attitude and there was a tendency to stay put. I called my friend Itzik, who sometimes assumes the task of our boat’s meteorologist, and he downloaded the forecast for us. Once we had the weather picture we decided to go. We sailed the 32 miles to Nassau wing and wing with the jib poled out, sometimes surfing down waves with a maximum speed of 12.4 knots.

There are a lot of marinas in Nassau port and we called two; one did not have space available, the other, Bay Street marina, had a berth but the cost was 3$ per foot for one night. Expensive, but needing to fill our water tanks, shop for fresh foodstuff and do laundry we decided to go in. The wind was blowing 20-25 knots and our berth was orientated 90 degrees to it. One marina worker came to help but was utterly inefficient and slow. Our stern was blown towards the piles downwind and hit one with a bang. John, perhaps the dock-master, came along and helped secure the boat satisfactorily. The shopping objective was fulfilled at Solomon’s Fresh Market, which has a shuttle service for the marinas and has a great selection of products.

Nassau port is situated between the New Providence Island northern coast and Paradise Island; Two bridges connect them. Checking the charts I had mistakenly believed that the vertical clearance of those was 12 meters, too low for us to pass. It meant that in order to go to the Exumas we would have to go around the big island from the west, lengthening the way considerably. Later in the evening I realized my mistake: the correct figure was 21 meters. The forecast for tomorrow is for northeasterly winds at a bit over 20 knots. Next day it would be easterlies at 17 knots. We now had to decide whether we wanted to sail quick and rough with the wind free or motorsail with less wind but from ahead.

22.3.16 – Tuesday – In the morning it blew even harder than yesterday. Gusts reaching 27 knots rattled our boat. Should we or shouldn’t we go? I went to get advice from the locals. Christopher, to whom I was referred by the lady in the office, was very helpful. Maybe I’m saying this because he said:”You can go, no problems” which aimed at my own wish. He also allayed my concern regarding an area called “Yellow Bank” which is strewn with coral heads and through which we were to pass. So, the decision was “GO”.

At 1000 we motored out, Gili running around on the foredeck to stow all the ropes and fenders we used in the marina, while I helmed the boat to pass under the bridges.

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As we went out of the harbour we saw a Lagoon 440 catamaran ahead. They were obviously going the same way. We saw them opening their sails to what seemed to be the third reef. We decided to do the same and once ours were up we took up the course to Allan’s Cay. The wind came from our port beam at around 22 knots, gusting at times to 28. We were doing 7 knots and very quickly overtook the Lagoon. Sailing that VNN route was a bit disconcerting at first but with time I relaxed, or maybe just became fatalistic; the guide says that the closest coral heads reach the surface is 3 feet; we draw three feet and two inches… The tide was still high enough and yet the feeling was that of playing the Roulette, something I have no experience at.

With the wind from abeam and the shallow waters came those short steep waves. At one point the depth information disappeared and after a minute or so came back. I noticed that it happened whenever the ride became rolly; need to contact Raymarine support to understand.

At 1530 we entered Allan’s Cay. Eight other yachts were at anchor and we joined, dropping ours on a sandy bottom at 2.4 meters and backing, releasing chain, to stop at 1.2 meters. Though not a pleasant sail, I was happy we did it, arriving at the Exumas and not staying in port. This place is simply lovely, we’ll explore the cays tomorrow.

23.3.16 – Wednesday – I started the morning with some necessary maintenance. The pump of the owner’s head was leaking through the handle’s shaft and I was lucky to find a repair kit at a chandlery in Nassau. Next – the cooking gas electronic control went mad, switching itself on and off and disrupting the galley’s operations. I bypassed it to connect the gas tank directly to the stove; we have manual valves to shut the system down when needed.

Once that was over, we lowered the dinghy and went ashore. I knew there were Iguanas on the cay but their number surprised me.

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We decided to stay here one more night and then go on the Norman’s Cay. In the coming week we’ll continue going down the Exumas, stopping in several cays and then reach George Town, where Yaron, Gili’s brother would join us. We are looking forward to enjoying the reefs and the sights of the Exumas Marine and Land Park, which starts a bit south of Norman’s Cay.

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Responses

  1. beautiful picture !!!


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