Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sea of Abaco, Western Part

Past the Whale Cay Passage to the west begins the western part of the Sea of Abaco. It is wilder than the central or southern regions but offers numerous anchorages to the adventuresome. To most, however, including the White Pepper, it is a transit route to and from Florida.

After the Whale we chose to skip Green Turtle Cay. Green Turtle is every cruiser's favorite, but Jan and I had spent three days there in May '08 and chose to travel further on the Spanish Cay. Spanish Cay is a privately owned island with a resort and marina. We chose to anchor off as the weather was predicted to be mild and dinghied in. I bought fuel and then later that evening we went back to the restaurant. We met the owner of the whole deal. His name was Don, and he hails from Texas. He is a restauranteur and owns restaurants in southeast Texas, Fort Lauderdale as well as Spanish Cay. He runs the whole empire wearing baggy red swim trunks and a white Tee. But make no mistake this is a first class operation. The resort sparkles, the marina hums and the restaurant serves excellent food. Don obviously has no qualms about serving what sells—butter and salt. My feet were swollen for 2 days, but it was an excellent farewell to the Bahamas or a good introduction to Florida. I am not sure which, but I am sure we will stop there again when we swing the the Abacos again.

The next and last stop in the Bahamas is Great Sale Cay which is an uninhabited island in the middle of the Little Bahama Banks It makes an excellent stop coming or going. There were 12 boats there that night. We did not tarry or go ashore. The next morning was a bitter sweet parting. There followed a longish 50 mile motor sail to the Mantilla Shoal and then out into the Gulf Stream for a 60 mile crossing to Fort Pierce Inlet. As predicted by Virtual Buoy the wind and wave conditions were perfect for the crossing. The moon came up at midnight. There was not a cloud in the sky. The stars twinkled. The wind was gentle and on the quarter all night. It even obligingly changed directions as White Pepper snaked across the Stream. In the morning as Fort Pierce came into view I told Jan the I doubted if we would ever ever get another Gulf Stream crossing this nice.

We cleared the Fort Pierce jetties about 7:30 am but chose to pass Fort Pierce and continue north up the ICW to Vero Beach. Conditions are much more congenial in Vero Beach for rest and repair.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sea of Abaco, Central Part

The middle part of the Sea of Abaco is great green bathtub about 10 feet deep 16 miles long and about 6 miles wide. It is surrounded by islands and cays thus protected from the ocean waves. The web is thick here and bandwidth plentiful. Florida is obviously not too far away. Dotted about the periphery are harbors and anchorages embellished to entice the tourist and charter cruiser. Moorings maintains a large charter fleet in Marsh Harbor. And no wonder, this spot is perfect for the beginning charter. Navigation is line of sight without significant hazard anywhere and there is a party every night.

Marsh Harbor had fewer boats anchored than I anticipated—only about 40. A few were obvious derelicts or stored on an anchor. There was a steady stream of cruisers in and out picking up crew or provisions. As a note to the regular cruiser the grocery store, Maxwell's, has moved 3 blocks and has been enlarged. It now rivals any Publix in Florida or Randall's in Texas. This takes some getting used to after using the mom and pop stores in the out islands.

Great Guana Cay is still in party mode. On Sunday we went to Nipper's for the pig roast. There must have been 500 people there. It felt like a frat party. Jan and I had to leave to get some air. We walked to Grabber's which was rocking but somewhat more sedate. Unbelievably we met old Corpus friends, Adela and Bob Nash by the pool. We hung out by the pool all Sunday afternoon and then danced the evening away. The next morning they checked out of Grabber's and came with us on the White Pepper to Man of War Cay.

Man of War Cay was settled in 1780 by the loyalist from America. Today it retains a strong religious identity and work ethic. The place is neat as a pin and there are flowers in every yard. Every yard is moved. Most of the inhabitants are named Albury. It is a very unique place in the Bahamas. At the marina William “Tom” Carpenter came down and introduced himself. Tom is a prominent “Aggie” (graduate of Texas A&M University for the foreigners reading this blog). He was very gracious--buying us all ice cream and then taking us to his island home and boat. He maintains a pristine Hinckley Bermuda 40, Larkspur. He still races the boat and once took it to the Antigua Classic Boat Regatta. As a final act of hospitality he took Bob and Adela across to Marsh Harbor in his outboard. Bob and Adela had to catch a plane all too soon. Thanks, Tom.

Finally, White Pepper had to go back to Marsh Harbor for final provisioning in preparation for the return to the US. There we met old friends, Matt and Christine, on Kaleo. Also at Marsh Harbor were Alan and Diane on Mango Groove. All of us went to the craft fair on Sunday. It was very quaint. The Ministry of Tourism was apparently subsidizing the beer as Kalik was only $2, the lowest price I ever paid in the Bahamas. Kalik and all beers are usually sold for $5.

The weather was beautiful but a weak front and then trough had settled over the area. The winds came out the west for fours days. Since we could not leave we went to Treasure Cay. At Treasure Cay is an amazing 3.5 mile sandy white beach in protected water. We spent 3 days walking the beach or hanging out at the pool. It was hard to leave as we knew this was the end of the leisure part of our stay in the Abacos. Once we cleared the Whale, which is the treacherous passage between the western and central parts of the Sea of Abaco, we knew that we were headed back to America as fast as possible.

The pics are file photos of the beach at Treasure Cay and then of Man of War Cay at sunset

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Inagua" by Robert Klingel

There are few really good books written about the Bahamas. “The Out Island Doctor” and “Wind from the Carolinas” about completes the list. So imagine White Pepper's surprise to find a treasure in a gift shop on the Chesapeake--”Inagua” by Robert Klingel. Written in 1940 and largely forgotten, it was reissued by his daughter due to local demand in the Chesapeake where Mr. Klingel was well regarded mostly for his boat work and environmental efforts.

Robert Klingel was a young man and budding naturalist when he set out with his friend Wallie Coleman for the Caribbean to study lizards. They had commissioned a replica of Joshua Slocum’s Spray. Without any real seamanship they survived a horrible storm and were eventually ship wrecked on the island of Inagua. The year was 1930. Inagua is the southern most of the Bahamian archipelago. It was even more forlorn and God-forsaken than is it now which is saying something.

Rather than abandon everything he stayed a year on Inagua doing naturalist studies. Years later he returned with primitive diving apparatus to continue his studies on the reef.

In 1940 he wrote a comprehensive account of his adventures and studies. The result was a wonderfully entertaining book. The first few chapters review his preparations and voyage. Then there is a marvelous section about life on Inagua early in the depression. The bulk of the book is a series of essays about the geography, geology, flora and fauna of the island. There are several chapters about the magnificent flamingos that live and breed in the interior of the island. The last three chapters reprise his pioneering studies of the reef with an air helmet.

It is a beautiful book and available at Amazon. For Jan and I it enlarged our appreciation of the subtle beauty and delicate ecology of these desert island in the southwest Atlantic.

For the reader who has ventured this far let me add that the writing is reflective of biology as it was taught in the 1920's and 30's. Evolution was fang and claw. “A death for every life, ” in Klingel's words. This view of evolution, while strictly true, is no longer taught in school. The gory winner take all view of nature informed Nazi ideology and was using to justify killing Slavs and Jews as “natural.” Now teachers emphasize one set of DNA versus another. Same idea, just gentler consequences.  

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sea of Abaco, Southern Part

From Royal Island White Pepper headed north for Great Abaco Island. The wind was strong, about 18 or 19 knots from the ENE, as predicted, but maybe a bit more than anticipated. With a reefed main and jib she just rocketed through the 5 foot swells. The crew had less fun. Jan and I had to change off steering about every 30 minutes because the wave action was so vigorous and too much for the autopilot. The wind moderated to about 12 to 15 at noon, again as predicted. The autopilot kicked in, and we had a lovely afternoon sail to Little Harbor. White Pepper made the 50 n. miles in about 7 and ½ hours—quite good for an overloaded old boat. We anchored in the Bight of Old Robinson next to Little Harbor about 100 yards from where we had anchored 3 years earlier.

Little Harbor has not changed a bit in 3 years. The foundry is still cranking out professor Robertson's fine sculptures and Pete's Pub is still serving good food and drink. We spent a lovely afternoon with new friends Dr. Chris Vonderheide and Nicola from catamaran, Atlas-T! and old friends from Izzy-R.

The next day we motored slowly to an anchorage in the lee of Lubber's Quarters and then spent the next day, Cinco de Mayo, waiting out a stiff norther. It was too windy to even get in the Habenero to go ashore. Lubber's Quarters has been advertising heavily lately, and we wanted to see what all the buzz was about. I was miffed to have to spend a whole day on winter weather in May. Global warming where are you when we need you. On the 6th we motored slowly to Hope Town on Elbow Cay. The “inside” passage from Lubber's Quarters past Tilloo Cut to Hope Town is quite shallow. However, using the high tide at 11 am we made it in fine shape and picked up a mooring ball in Hope Town by 1 pm.

Hope Town is too cute for words. With the light house it is the quintessential Bahamian tourist town. Please see our post from 3 years ago for pictures and more description. What made this visit special was a chance to see Hope Town from the inside. As I have written before in this blog the best part of cruising is getting to know the natives. A chance encounter and invitation to Izzy-R allowed us to attend a cocktail party at one of the harbor side homes. Jeff told me, “Karl, you owe me for this one.” And he was right. Our host, Glenn, owned a home (and dock) on the hill overlooking the harbor and facing the light house. The reader may protest that this encounter was not the “real” Bahamas. However, it is the “real” Hope Town with its very high priced real estate and over the top life style. As the sun was setting and the light house light flashing twice every 20 seconds I thought of the quote in “The Great Gatsby”--'the rich are very different from you and me.' Anyway we had a lovely and gracious evening. The picture is one of Jan's favorites. It was taken by Izzy-R as we were coming over to visit for happy hour.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Hatchet Bay and Current Cut

Hatchet Bay in northern Eleuthra Island claims to be the safest harbor in the Bahamas. It would be hard to dispute that based on geography. Despite the favorable topography hurricane Floyd did a number on the area as well as the rest of the Bahamas. White Pepper easily made the 15 miles from Governor's Harbor to Hatchet Bay. We entered the harbor through a cleft in the cliffs that could not have been 100 feet wide. There was plenty of water. Entering the harbor it opens into a deep and fairly wide anchorage which is protected 360 degrees by high cliffs. There are even several free mooring balls. Despite all of this amazing protection, we could see little marine activity. The marina has dried up. There is a large concrete government dock, but no fuel or water. There were few boats around. We did link up with Izzy R, our new friends from Governor's Harbor. We all had a nice dinner at the only establishment about which was the Front Porch.

The next day Jan and I walked the short distance to Alice Town. Alice Town was a pleasant surprise. It was large by Eleuthra standards. Everyone was very friendly. There was a large park and playground. Most of the homes were well kept. Some had extravagant gardens of gardenias, bougainvilleas, and hibiscus. We wondered how the locals maintained these homes since there was no industry about. Certainly there was no marine or fishing industry. The only employment opportunities inside the city limits seemed to be churches, bars, and numerous small convenience stores. Finally we decided that the locals must be employed in the hospitality services else where on Eleuthra.

A reason to stop in Hatchet Bay is to pass through Current Cut on the way the Spanish Wells and the other other heavily populated areas of northwestern Eleuthra. Current Cut is just what it sounds like—a very narrow cut with fierce current. White Pepper's sorry motor can not handle currents that can exceed 4 knots so we resolved to time the slack water. Consulting the tide tables I saw that the only slack water available within 3 hours of sunrise or sunset was the low tide at 13:29. We set out to cover the 15 miles from Hatchet Bay to Current Cut at 9:30 with a gentle wind from the East blowing us due West. However, the wind continued to build relentlessly. Despite reducing sail several times the old girl kept going faster and faster. Eventually we arrive at the way point about 45 minutes before low tide. There was nothing else to do except go for it. With a bit of sail assist, the Yanmar motor going full out, and my eyes glued to the Garmin chart plotter, we turned the last corner safely and blasted through the cut at 10 knots. The wind was whistling, the scenery was spectacular, the green water was doing its current/wind lap dance and my heart was beating like a drum. Jan was as cool as a cucumber and enjoying the scene immensely. Within seconds we were spit out unto the banks and headed for Royal Island. I felt an immense sense of accomplishment and proud to have checked that one off my bucket list. But if I am ever crazy enough to try Current Cut again, I am going to arrive 20 or 30 minutes after high or low water. Or I will just head for Fleeming Cut which is only several miles south and does not have any current issues at all.

The pictures are of White Pepper proceeding from Hachet Bay to Current Cut under reefed genoa only.  Izzy-R  took these pics.  The waterscape is a file photo of Hachet Bay.