Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Being brave during our last few days in the Bahamas

Askari at Clarence Town
Many people told us we were crazy to bring Askari to the Bahamas due to areas of very shallow water. Askari is certainly deep draught for the Bahamas at more than 7 feet. However, Andrew has carefully studied the charts (like every night….), we have used waypoints and taken the opportunity to move around in good light spotting reefs and shoals – skills we learned in the Pacific many years ago. The result has been a fabulous experience over the last two months and with the exception of a couple of weeks of bad weather, just after the new year, the conditions have been fantastic and the sailing has been really exhilarating in shallow, calm water. We have had so many nights in secluded spots on our own, ticked off a few of the ‘must do’ touristy things and made memories to last a lifetime. Whilst you could spend years exploring these wonderful islands and cays with gentle people and easy bureaucracy we felt we had seen enough to venture on and saw a good weather window approaching to head south.

Bean Bag Sailing

We spent one last chilled night at Cat Island and then got up early for a sail to Long Island. The first hour was a lovely downwind drift to Hawks Nest on the South East tip of Cat Island then we turned into the wind for a boisterous 30 miles upwind sail to the top end of Long Island, the wind was pretty fluky and it was a fairly tough sail making changes all the time. However, around 2pm we snuck into the lee of the island and it was like a different day. Long Island is really shallow but Andrew had identified two bays we could hopefully find a spot to anchor, although we expected swell and or surge. He cautiously worked through the unmarked reef with me on the bow, mostly just being terrified but supposedly looking out for dangers…. We tucked right in the North of Columbus Cove in water that was just so amazingly blue and dropped the anchor. It was a bit surgey but more of a gentle pulse than swell; which can roll the boat and drive you mad and have to sleep like a gecko pinned to the bunk. We had a beautiful sunset and even saw a green flash –it was really worth being brave for this.

Sunset at Columbus Cove

Our view at Columbus Cove

Next stop was on the East side of Long Island – Clarence Town. Another early start and the first hour was a really shitty motor sailing directly into the wind to get around the Cape and the reefs that extend off it. We then turned South East and sailed down the island. It started off really well with nice conditions, however the sea really picked up, with the current and then the swell was bouncing off the island and coming right back at us.  For one of very few times in my life I actually felt sea sick….. You can’t quite believe the bay at Clarence Town is protected looking at the chart, however we sailed right into the bay, dropped the sails and the worked our way into a spot behind the reef alongside Strachan Cay. It was spectacular and so calm. There were three other boats – two French and one Canadian, who had been here 3 weeks. We had planned to leave the next day however this was such a beautiful spot and the sea was due to calm the following day so we decided to stay a day and explore – we also enjoyed a fabulous lunch at the Flying Fish Marina.

Entering Clarence Town

View of the pass into Clarence Town

Our view at Clarence Town

The weather window south was opening and we started to hear of lots of boats heading East – something that is usually really hard to do at this time of the year. We made our final decision not to follow them but continue South to Cuba – oh my gosh we are brave after all, or stupid – only time will tell!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Cat Island

Another amazing sail from the Exumas to Cat Island – can I just say we are totally loving the sailing in the Bahamas. The sail to Cat was hard on the wind in the ocean but only about 15 knots of wind without too much swell and Askari just loved it. After so many months of motoring in the US we are having such fun sailing here. The current was a bit stronger than we had anticipated meaning we ended up a bit further north than we originally planned, but we found a fantastic anchorage near to Bennett’s Harbour and couldn’t believe the water clarity.

We went to Bennett’s Harbour the next day to explore and found a really small settlement with only one shop, come petrol station, come restaurant called Yardies. Derek and his wife run the place and he can get just about anything – legal or not (apparently) – he was a real character and invited us to his Brother’s birthday party but unfortunately we couldn’t go as it was a bit far from the anchorage.

Our anchorage

Dinghy dock a bit sketchy

Bennett's Harbour
 There’s a stunning creek that runs up from Bennet’s Harbour and joins with another that comes in from Alligator Point and high tide. We went to explore but we ran out of water, so went back to the boat and flew the drone instead. When we saw how beautiful the other end of the creek was from up in the air we decided to go on a mission next morning. The creek had water that was totally clear and so many turtles. A yacht had sailed in from a University in Rhode Island and the kids onboard were doing turtle tagging as they have some rare turtles that are indigenous to Cat Island here.

Up the creek

On the way back to Askari we decided to go lobster hunting, we couldn’t find any however we did find a crab. This time it was Andrew’s turn to provide lunch – he speared a fantastic reef spider crab. This crustacean had so much meat in it’s chunky little legs that they alone provided a feast!

Andrew caught lunch

sailing south on Cat Island
 The next day the wind was forecast to turn a little north so we decided to head south around the point. It was pretty breezy but we had a fabulous sail down to Fernandez Bay. This stunning bay is home to a really welcoming and laid back resort – we booked in for dinner and arrived to be introduced to the honesty bar and the guests. We had a great night, with lovely food, live music and met some really interesting people – one of the couples owned banks in Venuzuala and had flown in on their jet. The stories of their life in Venezuela and how sad they are about what is happening there just left us lost for words. Another couple were getting married later that week right here on the beach. The staff were just great and it was more like a family gathering than a resort – oh yes sore heads the next day thanks to the honesty bar!

Beautiful Fernandez Bay

Next day Ed and Shannon on Darwin arrived – we met in Waderwick Wells and are doing the great American loop in a 32 foot power boat but have taken a side trip to the Bahamas before they head north. These guys are a lot of fun and so we braved a few drinks together….

The wind had piped up to 20-25knots all from East but the swell in the Cat Island Bite was making it a bit uncomfortable at Fernandez Bay, so we headed out the next morning to Old Bite, which is tucked right in the corner. No sooner had we dropped the anchor than a lady paddled over to tell us there was music and Rollezz resort that night and we were invited. We had heard that there was a petrol station that hired cars near the anchorage so we decided to go and see if we could get one for a couple of days to see the rest of the island – no problem. So we went straight off for some groceries  and beers – Cat Island has some great supermarkets, a bakery and the best liquor store since we were in the Abacos.

Sand Dollars found under Askari
 We made it back in time to join the other cruisers and guests at Rollezz. Beverley and Carl are Cat Islanders and run this small resort and to liven things up for their guests, whenever there are a few boats anchored in the bay they put on live music and invite the cruisers too – we even got a complementary rum punch when we arrived. Music was provided by Rocky and one of the Polish Cruisers, Rocky told me about staring in a promotional video for Cat Island – here’s all you need to know about the history of Cat Island as shown by Rocky.

The next morning we hit the road early, keen to get to the north of the island.

Rocky music night

 We picked up some coconut bread snacks for breakfast at the bakery and drove to Orange Creek and found the Shanna’s Cove resort, which has a great walk. It’s about an hour on red dirt paths through stunning woodlands, passed a blue hole, to two of the most amazing beached I have ever seen. Man of War was first and as it appears out of the bush you can’t just help but be stunned, not a blemish on the sand and the gently pulsing waves of crystal blue. It’s right on the north of the island so I guess all the debris gets blown beyond it. Back at the resort, run by a great German couple we ordered lunch. We shared lunch with Nick who lived on the island – Nick used to race power boats and owned the marina in Marsh Harbour for years but now lives in a sustainable house with his Bahamian Wife who is a Methodist Minister on the Island. (She’s also Sidney Poitier’s daughter). Nick invited us to his house to see how they live and the views which were stunning – he also has a great rental cottage on his property….

An englishman on Cat Island gave me a rose
 The next day we went to visit the famous medieval style monastery on the highest point in the Bahamas – it’s just 206 feet above sea level. Father Jerome who is loved by all on Cat Island built it – it was his hermitage. We found it so weird to arrive at this place that you can see from all over the island and find it is just tiny – like a miniature monastery. The views are pretty amazing and I can’t imagine what it would be like living up here.

Then we ventured to the south of the island on some crazy dirt roads. We went to check out the small harbour at Hawks Nest where there’s a marina and small development. On the way there we got stuck behind a truck that then proceeded to tear down the electricity cables including a pole. We couldn’t believe it when one of the guys just hopped out, found a stick to lift the cable onto the roof of the truck and it then they slowly drove from under it. On the way back there were guys on site putting it back up and they just lifted it for us to drive under! We went to the East Side of the Island to the Greenwood resort – we met the owners daughter in Eluthera and she told us this was a great spot for lunch. She wasn’t wrong – this is another really low key resort that focuses on diving, kite boarding and just chilling out. It’s run by a lovely French Couple – Antoine and Pauline. We stocked up on diesel in jerry cans before we dropped off the hire car. Then moved to New Bite as the wind had come around a little and we only had 0.3 water under the keel at low tide in this spot there wasn’t a lot of room for a further wind shift.

The next day was a bit rainy but we got a few jobs done and persuaded Ed & Shannon to join us ashore at the New Bite Beach Bars for some local delights that night. Oh gosh what a night that turned out to be…. Friday night and everyone was there, we were served by the fabulous Anni-boo who makes a shot mix they call ‘liquid cocaine’. It contains Jaigermiester, Goldschlager and rum – it’s no wonder they also sell headache tablets at this bar. There was about 4 beach bars open tonight and we settled in at one but had food from another brought in – all so relaxed and the locals were so friendly, we laughed, danced and had a great night.

We had one more day at the fantastic Cat Island before setting sail for Long Island, further south.

(I need to tidy this but in a rush to publish before we get to Cuba)