Cruise to the Bahamas 2001 (pictures)

Friday, February 2nd
We left Sarasota mid-day Friday February 2nd and traveled to Key West in one 29 hour stretch. It was hard work doing a long overnight run for our first day. It's always hard with just 2 crew; we have to do 3-4 hour watches each through the night. Ginger was also seasick which made it harder still. We motor-sailed the whole way to make sure we reached Key West before dark Saturday. At least the wind was from the north so it helped rather than hindered.
Anyway, we arrived in Key West without incident and tied up in the Galleon Marina. Sunday we took it easy and went shopping for a few bits in Key West. Monday we start east up the Keys towards Miami. We have to get to at least Key Largo before we set off across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.
Monday, February 5th.
At 10am we set out from Key West trying to sail East. The wind was a great 20 knots, but from the wrong direction. The forecast said it would be northerly, but it was from the north-east. That 45 degrees doesn't sound much, but when you want to sail east it's a killer. We started sailing at the best angle we could but we were going to far south. So we gave up and motored. At 4pm we dropped anchor in Newfound Harbor, 25 miles east of Key West. Depending on the wind we may be stuck here a few days. As we arrived I felt a knocking from the starboard engine, so yet again I went
to unwrap a lobster pot line from the prop!
Tuesday, February 6th
A long day. Sailed from Newfound Harbor to Long Key. With a current against us we sailed over 50 miles. Again, we sailed for half the day before we decided we were going so far out beyond the reef that it wasn't doing us any good. Then we motored. Again, we had to heave to while I went snorkeling to detach a lobster pot line! Anchored at Long Key after a long day, and 50 miles.
Wednesday, February 7th
Another day motoring; only around 26 miles. Anchored at Rodriguez Key near Key Largo. This is a suitable jumping off point for the Bahamas. Now we have to wait for moderate seas in the Gulf Stream, and reasonably favorable wind. It looks like we'll be here until Monday.
Thursday, February 8th
Hung out off Rodriguez Key. Pretty breezy (20-25 knots) but we're sheltered from too much swell. We spent the day doing various preparative and maintenance jobs.
Friday, February 9th
Motored a couple of miles to Key Largo Harbor Marine to fill up with fuel. As well as topping up the tank (42 gallons) we filled 4 other 5 gallon containers for a bit of contingency. Motored back to the same anchorage off Rodriguez Key. We're now ready to go - just waiting for the right weather. We need a couple of days of moderate SE - SW winds; no sign yet. Today and Saturday are expected to be E 20-25 knots; Sunday and Monday are forecast as E to SE 10-15 knots. That may have to be good enough.
Monday, February 12th
We arrived in Cat Cay, Bahamas. We left Key Largo Sunday evening around 8pm and sailed overnight, so we would arrive in Cat Cay around 10am - good light for navigating through our first channel onto the Bahamas Bank. Our decision to go in an easterly wind (wind blowing against the Gulf Stream) led to a bumpy ride over a lumpy sea. Ginger was seasick and slept for most of the crossing, but we made it. We cleared Bahamas customs at Cat Cay paying $100 for a 6 month Cruising Permit.
Wednesday, February 14th
We set off over the Great Bahamas Bank. It's disconcerting to sail all day in water around 15 feet deep! After the first hour of nervously looking for obstacles, one gets used to it! It's even stranger to anchor at the end of the day and settle down for the night with no land in sight! We spent two nights on the Bank between Cat Cay and Chub Cay because we were motoring pretty slowly into the easterly headwind.
Thursday, February 15th
We arrived at Chub Cay via the Northwest Channel Light, refueled and ate out in their restaurant. We also snorkeled off Mama Rhoda Rock.
Friday, February 16th
We arrived at New Providence. We decided not to go into Nassau because we'd have to find a marina that could take us. Apparently, there are few good anchorages in the Nassau harbor. We anchored off Athol Cay, in sight of the harbor and Paradise Island.

Monday, February 19th

We again crossed the Bahamas Bank to the northern end of the Exumas chain and anchored at the uninhabited  Allen Cay. We spent three nights at Allen Cay because a front came through and with it some unsettled weather. We put two anchors out, for the first time, and hung on! One of Allen Cay's claims to fame is as home for a colony of iguanas (the largest indigenous land animal in The Bahamas).

Tuesday, February 20th

We moved a few miles to Highborne Cay to visit the Marina and the store to stock up on fresh food. Unfortunately, it turned out the the store had closed for remodeling. This was our first lesson about the uncertain availability of fresh food in the out islands.

Saturday, February 24th

Exumas Land and Sea Park. We visited several cays in the Exuma Land and Sea Park and spent several days at Warderick Wells, the park headquarters. We moored in the north anchorage close to the park ranger's office. Warderick Wells is busy and we had to call up for a mooring the previous day. At Warderick Wells we snorkelled and made our first scuba dive in the Bahamas. We also climbed Boo Boo Hill to add our boat's name to the collection there.

Wednesday, February 28th

We reach Staniel Cay, a cruising center in the middle Exumas. We shopped at the Island General Store, snorkeled in Thunderball Grotto (apparently where the 007 movie was filmed) and had dinner in Club Thunderball.

Saturday, March 3rd

We arrive at George Town which is the cruising Mecca of the southern Bahamas. There were over 400 boats in the George Town harbor when we arrived. This was a week or two before the annual George Town regatta which is the peak time for cruising boats, but in fact many many boats spend the entire winter in George Town without ever raising the anchor! Four hundred boats sounds huge but the George Town harbor is really big. It's actually several named harbors in a large sheltered area between Stocking Island and the mainland - Great Exuma. It's always possible to find quiet areas, at the expense of a longer trip - miles perhaps - to the town. George Town is small but cruiser oriented with a good supermarket, restaurants and other services.

Monday, March 5th

We initially anchored near the town to visit the Laundromat and market. However, as a weather front was forecast, we went off to hide in a more sheltered 'hole'. This particular hole was perfect for a catamaran because only with our 3' 6" draft could we enter, and then only at high tide. The front was a spin-off from some major storms which were battering the US Northeast at the time.

Wednesday, March 7th, to Wednesday, March 14th

Our first visitors, Larry and Janet, arrive in George Town and we spend a few days cruising north back up the Exumas. We visit Leaf Cay and Lee Stocking Island, for snorkeling and iguana watching, and get as far as Little Farmers Cay before we turn back to George Town.

Sunday, March 18th

We leave George Town again this time going south. We cross to Long Island and dive some shallow patch reefs from an anchorage in Calabash Bay. Here we perfected one of our dive site locating techniques. We tracked the local dive boat from Stella Maris using our radar and plotted the GPS location where they stopped!

Tuesday, March 20th

Soon after, we visited Stella Maris marina to escape yet another frontal passage. Stella Maris is an upscale resort and dive center on Long Island. We spent a couple of days there.

Thursday, March 22nd

We left Stella Maris a little too early. The seas take a day or two to subside after the winds have dropped. We abandoned our plan to go back to Calabash Bay at the north end of Long Island and went instead south to the more sheltered Salt Pond. We hid there a couple more days.

Sunday, March 25th

Conception Island. An uninhabited national park between Long Island and Cat Island. We spent a week there on this our first visit. There were beautiful reefs alongside the anchorage for snorkeling and night dives, and wall diving around the southeast corner of the island. Someone, probably Stella Maris, has put some moorings on top of the wall so we dinghied around and tied onto these for our dives. Excellent diving in 50-80 feet on a fringing reef with a sharp drop-off - a common configuration in Bahamas and Turks & Caicos. One site seemed to have a resident dolphin!

Conception is virtually an atoll with an interior of shallow lagoons and mangroves. At high tide one can dinghy in and explore. Our most exciting sight was baby turtles living in the lagoons.

Conception also had a resident castaway. This sailor was living on the beach with his wrecked sailboat which he was attempting to fix. At that time, he'd been living there three weeks!

Sunday, April 1st

Rum Cay. At this point, we decided to make for Turks and Caicos. We had a few weeks before our next visitors arrived in George Town and originally planned just to hang out in the southern Bahamas. But Turks and Caicos was just a few days away, and we'd heard that the diving is good there!

Tuesday, April 3rd

Mayaguana. The most southeasterly island in the Bahamas. We got there in two long days from Rum Cay, with a scary stop-over at Semana Cay; Scary because of the challenges involved in getting through he reef in one piece. We also lost a rigging clevis pin during the passage. That was scary too. Next stop Provo, Turks and Caicos.

Friday, April 6th

We cleared Customs at Turtle Cove Marina on Providencials (Provo) Turks and Caicos. The marina will send out a boat, if you ask, to guide you through the intricate passage in the reef. We rented a car and spend a day shopping and sightseeing. We visited the world's only Queen Conch farm!

Friday, April 13th

We spent week diving off West Caicos. A drop-off with dive site moorings on the leeward side of the island. The moorings belong to the two liveaboards that operate here - T&C Aggressor and Peter Hughes' Sea Dancer. Everyday we played musical moorings with the liveaboards and the local dive boats from Provo. Moorings make life much easier for us when diving the walls. It's hard to anchor a boat in 50'-60' at the top of the wall without damaging coral or losing the boat while you dive! Only the liveaboards put in moorings strong enough for us; day dive boats are typically 20' skiffs and we would pull out their moorings.

Sunday, April 15th

From West Caicos we went to French cay for a couple of days of diving. This is an uninhabited island and a bird sanctuary at the southern end of the Caicos Bank.

Thursday, April 19th
Grand Turk. We spent another week at Grand Turk. For the first few days we hid from a frontal passage in an anchorage at the south end of the island. Grand Turk is the capital of the Turks and Caicos and is a quieter, more interesting place than Provo. Grand Turk has a line of dive site moorings along its leeward west shore as it also supports a liveaboard (Peter Hughes' Wind Dancer) as well as local dive operators. We spent a week off Grand Turk, and a few days off Salt Cay to the south, diving every day.
Saturday, April 29th
After a couple of days diving at South Caicos, we went via Ambergris Cay on our way back to Provo. We anchored in Sapodilla Bay on the south side of Providenciales and made a final visit to the town before leaving for the Bahamas.
Tuesday, May 1st
We went to West Caicos for our last dive in the Turks and Caicos. We had planned to spend the night there and leave in the morning, but the wind had shifted to the southwest. Anchoring off a lee shore is a very uncomfortable and potentially dangerous move, so we bit the bullet and left for an unplanned overnight trip to Mayaguana. We arrived too early and sailed around for a few hours to enter through the reef in daylight.
Wednesday, May 9th
We had allowed ourselves plenty of time to get back to George Town but we didn't expect to be stuck in the harbor at Mayaguana for a week. The weather was fine there but we had reports on the radio of a front stationary over the George Town area. If we had left to go north we would have run into some bad conditions. After a week the weather had mostly cleared, but we were running a little late so we sailed to George Town in a non-stop 30 hour overnight trip.
Saturday, May 12th
Our second set of visitors, Jan and Michael, arrived. We only had a few days so we went north to Leaf Cay and did some snorkeling.
Friday, May 18th
Between our second and third set of visitors, we went to Cat Island. We spent a couple of days near Hawks Nest marina, and a couple of days at New Bight. We rented a car and toured the island. We hiked up to The Hermitage, a curious home built by Father Jerome a well-known Bahamas missionary. We wanted to do some diving but all the Cat Island sites are on the weather side of the island and the sea was too rough.
Saturday, May 26th
Our third set of visitors, Rich and Barb, arrived. That evening, just after dinner, there was a crash and Tigger fell from the cabin top to the cockpit floor (about six feet) and injured leg! So much for the idea that cat's always fall on their feet. We had thought his greatest danger was falling into the sea. There was no vet in George Town so we left for San Salvador as planned to see how he did over the next few days.
Tuesday, May 29th
Tigger was no better so Ginger flew from San Salvador to Nassau to take him to a vet. He stayed there a couple of days and she and Barb flew back Friday to pick him up. Meanwhile we dived the dive sites of San Salvador. There's a Club Med on the island that runs several 50' catamaran dive boats so the dive site moorings were again strong enough for us. They were even labeled with the dive site name. At other places, naming the dive sites we went to was a detective story. Again, the moorings ran along the drop-off that's on the leeward side of the island but they varied a lot in reef topology. At San Salvador, the resident reef sharks were hammerheads!
Tuesday, June 5th
We spent a couple of days diving and snorkeling at Conception Island before returning to George Town.
Sunday, June 10th
After Rich and Barb left we set off back to Florida, traveling every day pretty much the same way as we came. On Saturday, June 16th we arrived at Rodriguez Key, Key Largo, our departure point in February.
Monday, June 18th
In Key West we cleared customs and were visited by INS and Dept. of Agriculture Inspectors. We stayed in Key West for a couple of days before leaving for the Marquesas, and Dry Tortugas.
Saturday, June 23rd
In the Dry Tortugas National Park we visited Fort Jefferson and did a couple of dives. The dive visibility conditions weren't quite as good as The Bahamas, but they were still good dives. We dived Texas Rock and a wreck called the Windjammer.
Monday, June 25th
We arrived at Twin Dolphin Marina in Bradenton where Dos Gatos will spend the summer.
Over the trip we logged 2000 nautical miles.
In November we'll start over!