Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Devil Hoffman's or White Cay Anchorage

I can only admire the courage and skill of early cruisers that piloted these waters without the aid of a high quality GPS chart plotter.  The small anchorage between the larger Hoffman's Cay and Devil Cay and behind the smaller White Cay was the target of White Pepper's second stop in the Berry Islands.  However, I doubt that I would have had the nerve to enter it without the Garmin.  The beach seemed featureless rock until just a few hundred yards off and then a small entrance opened up to the SW.  We swooshed in and fifty yards on had to make a hard turn to N to avoid crashing into Saddleback Cay.  But in about the time it takes to read this post we were sailing in calm quiet, deep water.  We sailed about 1/2 mile further behind the lee of White Cay and dropped anchor in 6 feet of sand.

This spot does not get the publicity that the Little Harbor anchorage which is a few miles south gets.  Little Harbor is populated while White Cay is wilderness.  It does have good 360 degree protection and good holding which we were soon to test.  Every cruising guide comments on the rolling that goes on here.  Indeed it is rolly as the northern pass (too shallow to cross) is only 1/4 mile away.  But the phenomenon is not ocean rolls, rather the anchorage has standing waves that occur at the maximun of the flood tide.  There must be some interference pattern between the north and south passes that causes this effect.  Regardless twice a day it gets very uncomfortable.  Otherwise it is a near perfect anchorage.  The anchorage is shallow.  The moon was full so the tides were at extreme.  At low low water there was only 6 inches of water under White Pepper's  keel.  The chart plotter said there should have been another 3 feet of water there.  This was the first error I have found in the otherwise perfect Garmin Blue Charts.

Hoffman's Cay is famous for a "blue hole."  However, we could not see it and could not get off the boat.  The strong front that pinned us down at Bullock's Harbor had now started to back up at a warm front.  The wind howled and current was strong at about 2 or 3 knots.  One evening there were squalls with thunder and lightning and gusts to 30+.  However, the Rocna anchor on 90 feet of chain held fast.

By the next morning the wind was force 4 out of the SW.  This was the signal to move as another northerly front was coming.  Our original intent was to sail around the Frazier Hog Cay on the southern side of the Berry Islands and wait out the front at the reconstituted Berry Island Club.  However, this course would be a hard beat to weather.  Nassau was only 50 miles to the SE and we could sail a tight reach to get there.  Jan and I had repeated sworn off Nassau.  But this morning we tightened sheets and tore off on fast reach for showers and latte at the Starbucks on High Street.

In summary we enjoyed the Berry Islands.  Not many sailors go there and indeed there is not much available. Bullock's Harbor seems under appreciated as refuge from the north wind and the marina at Great Harbor Cay seems unknown to the cruising community.  However, there are richer cruising grounds elsewhere in the Bahamas and Berry Islands should be thought of as a way to get to them.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bullock's Harbor, Berry Islands, Bahamas

White Pepper departed Port Lucaya just before dawn to take advantage of a favorable SW wind.  It would gently drive us SE to the Berry Islands.  They are 56 miles across the Northwest Providence Channel and just barely within reach within the 10 hours of January daylight.  Many cruisers who want to go further  choose to start crossing at night and or have faster motors, but we were able to sail most of the way.  These delightful SW and mild W winds come with a stinger.  They often precede a strong cold front which we knew was coming.  Thus we bypassed the usual stops of Great and Little Stirrup Cays as too exposed and went around to Bullock's Harbor.  As the sun touched the western horizon, the anchor rattled down in 7 feet of water just behind Rat Cay in the northeast corner of Bullock's Harbor.

The cold front whistled overhead for four days.  We were perfectly comfortable and safe in the protected waters but we never saw another sailboat or pleasure boat of any kind for the entire time.  It was too windy to even launch Habenero, our trusty dink, until day 5 when the wind moderated and clocked into the East.  We motored in the township of Bullock's Harbor on the island of Great Harbor Cay.  The town is a hardworking town of 750 souls.  They work on the cruise ships that stop regularly 8 miles away at Great Stirrup and Little Stirrup.  In fact cruise lines own all of both those islands.  The towns people also service a light sprinkling of resort homes on the island.  There is a well maintained 9 hole golf course although the club house is derelict.  Jack Nicklaus is said to visit here often, but comes for the bone fishing, not the golf.

We hiked and hitched a ride to the beach.  Wally let us ride in the bed of his truck dropping us off at the Beach Club and giving us a well received lecture about love and peace.  The beach is fabulous and, of course, deserted.  We walked about 3 miles.  The walk felt great after 4 days of cabin fever.  After lunch at the Beach Club Jan and I headed back to Bullock's Harbor.  We stopped at the marina for a look on the way.
Bullock's Harbor Marina got a poor review in one of the popular cruising guides, but we were favorably impressed.  The place was clean and neat.  The docks were well maintained and everything seemed quite in order despite being virtually empty.  We resolved to stay there on the next visit.  Back on the highway we were picked up by Barry, who by coincidence was the dock master at the marina.  He told us that indeed there was new management and that he had labored mightily to clean the place up.  He was proud of the fact that Jack Nicklaus keeps his large yacht there when he visits.  He offered to let us stay for $1/ft.  However, a day of decent weather was forecast  and we had to decline.

Back on White Pepper Jan and I told each other that we had been quite impressed with Bullock's Harbor and Great Harbor Cay and did not understand why it was off the cruiser's itenerary and so little visited.  We stored the dingy and prepared to leave early the next morning for Devil/ Hoffman's.

Note to readers:  pictures will be posted later.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Port Lucaya, Bahamas: That permanent cruise ship experience

White Pepper made an uneventful crossing of the Gulf Stream on 1-5-11 leaving the Lake Worth Inlet at 5 pm and arriving off of Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama Island at 10 am. The first 12 hours were motoring into very light winds. Although we were comfortable there was quite a struggle between the old Yhanmar motor which can push the boat at 4.7 knots in flat water and the Gulf Stream which can push back at 3 knots. Finally about 15 miles west of West End the current relented and we could steer a proper course. At dawn a brisk south wind sprung up. We let out the genoa and roared along on a beam reach at 6.5 to 7 knots up the Northwest Channel. Industrialized Freeport passed by the beam. By 10 am we were at Port Lucaya. Motoring in through the well marked channel we tied up at the Port Lucaya Marina by 11 am. We had left frigid Florida.  White Pepper was finally back in the Bahamas.

We had chosen Port Lucaya as a port of entry with some care. This year there has been an uproar in the immigration service of the Bahamas. Instead of the customary 180 days being granted to cruisers many boaters were given only 30 or 90 days which meant another trip to immigration to renew. We had heard through the grapevine that Port Lucaya officers were routinely granting the 180 days. The clearing in procedures were done at the marina. They were quite professional and courteous. We were granted our full allowance of 180 days. In exchange for $300. we received a cruising permit that allowed us access anywhere in the Bahamas for a year and the right to import replacement parts duty free--a great bargain in my opinion. The cruising permit lets you anchor anywhere for less than $2/day.

We paid for 3 days dockage because a strong front was forecast to blow through the next day. This stay allowed us to explore Port Lucaya more. The town is one of several oceanside  resorts stretched out to the east of Freeport. It faces deep water of the Northwest Channel which is about 50 miles wide. This is not the shallow banks that has made the Bahamas famous. Cruise ships ply the Northwest channel from Nassau and Florida ports. The cruise ships stop at Freeport, but Freeport is too industrial and grimy to be of interest to tourists. The cruise lines ship the the tourist to Port Lucaya by buses for shopping and the beach. To support this trade the Port Lucaya Market has sprung up just outside the marina. The market has dozens of bars, restaurants, tee shirt shops and straw markets all within the space of one city block. There are four upscale jewelery shops here, but no marine stores or grocery stores. When the buses roll up every morning the music cranks up and does not stop until after midnight. The tourist go back to the boat at the end of the day, but the market stays. It is the permanent cruise ship experience.

Needless to say Jan and I quickly tired of the hustle. There was a second front and then a third due all within a week. So we were pinned down. We were able to move to a lovely marina half mile away--the Grand Bahamas Yacht Club. This place is great with good docks, great service, clean showers, strong free WiFi signal, nice laundry, pool and happy hour. We can take a free shuttle to the beach. Plus its cheap. We could stay here all winter. However, we came to the islands to cruise, not dock. So White Pepper will be off to the Berry Island chain when the north wind relents.

The pics are of the entrance to the Port Lucaya Market and of a warm female enjoying a typical cruise ship experience of rum drink, conch fritters and white sandy beach with beach bar band playing in the background.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year's at Lake Worth, FL

Remember the post when I said good things about bridges across the ICW. I noted that they all seemed to being replaced rapidly by standard 65 foot clearance spans, and I worried what would happen to all of the nice bridge tenders. I need not have worried. They will all move to south Florida and help man the vast number of bridges there.

White Pepper planned to leave Vero Beach for Fort Lauderdale. We left on 12-30-11 and passed the Fort Pierce bridge without incident. Just past the bridge to the south and before the inlet was the Fort Pierce Marina, the scene of eventful changes to White Pepper 2 and 1/2 years ago. We waved silently to our friend Babette who still lives aboard in the marina. We motored down to Hobe Sound and found a peaceful anchorage for the night. One of the pics is of our friends on Scrimshaw about to go through on of the many draw bridges we past during that day.

However, the next day, New Year's Eve, brought 3 bridges within the first 6 statue miles. The chart showed 29 more bridges within the next 40 statue miles. Jan and I had had enough and we peeled off to the south anchorage of Lake Worth. Most non-sailors call this place Palm Beach, and indeed we were within several hundred yards of Palm Beach. Jan was tickled that the local grocery store, Publix, featured valet parking. We put the anchor down opposite the famed Ribovich Yard. That marina was full of mega yachts of which two were shrink wrapped presumably for shipping. The long distance pic just does not do the sight justice. That night the Flagler museum put on a spectacular fireworks display to welcome 2011. Jan and I reminisced about watching another great fireworks over Paradise Island, Nassau, Bahamas with Philip 3 years ago.

Although foiled in our original plan to get as far south as Ft. Lauderdale before jumping off to Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas, the weather dealt us a favorable hand. Today high pressure will drift over the Florida Straights making for light and variable winds tonight and a light following west wind Wed. morning. Lake Worth has the best inlet on the Florida coast and slack water is at 4 pm. I am hoping for a motor ride tonight across the Gulf Stream and then a dawn spinnaker run up the Northwest Channel to Port Lucaya. With luck and God's will the next post will be from the Bahamas.