Nassau to Norman’s Cay, Exumas

Exumas, Exumas, Exumas! We made it! Getting to the Bahamas was a major milestone, but the Exumas Island chain was our ultimate goal – and now we’re here! (And it’s ten times more beautiful than we could have ever imaged!)

After one failed attempt to leave Nassau (too choppy), we headed to Rose Island, east of New Providence Island, and anchored for an afternoon. If the seas had died down a bit, this would have made an awesome snorkeling spot. Alex jumped in nonetheless:

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We switched marinas from Nassau Yacht Haven ($2.50/ft) to Bayshore Marina ($1/ft). Bayshore is extremely basic, but we were able to tie up inside their T-dock, and with enough fenders and lines, enjoyed a pleasant (and much cheaper) stay in Nassau until we could cross the coral banks to the Exumas. The nearby Starbucks and Fresh Market became our posh/American headquarters. And tying up to a dock with the dogs was much easier than anchoring in Nassau Harbor – known for its strong currents and fair holding. Our Bayshore neighbors looked a little like this:

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Potter’s Cay conch shacks down the road from the marina:

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On Sunday, January 25, we had a good weather window to cross Yellow Bank between Nassau and the Exumas cays (“keys”). Yellow Bank is not terribly large, but is dotted with large coral heads that you must dodge and weave around in order to cross safely. We were advised to cross the bank at midday, when the sun reveals the coral heads beneath the water. It’s also best to cross on a calm day, as rough seas can obscure the coral heads. Alex took up watch in the bow and I steered a straight course, only altering once around a large dark patch of coral. Most of the coral seemed to be deep enough for us to pass over with our 5 ft draft, but we didn’t want to take any chances.

After Yellow Bank, we could relax and sail the rest of the way to our first island in the Exumas chain: Norman’s Cay. Norman’s was our first taste of unbelievably turquoise, perfect waters for which the Exumas are famous. Neither of us have ever seen blue shallows quite like this. Breathtaking!

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Several other boats were anchored in the southern part of Norman’s Cay, and our first night in the anchorage was perfect: flat clam water, uninhabited beaches for the dogs to run around, a strong anchor set. We made it. What an amazing feeling!

imagePiper quickly developed a habit of conch shell hunting. We hope she’ll learn to find live conch and bring us some dinner!

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Northwest Channel and Nassau

Awake before sunrise after a surprisingly good night of sleep (given the previous days sea state across Great Bahama Bank) we parted ways with Tim, Kathy and their dog Shamus, who were headed to Great Harbor in the northern Berry Islands. (You can follow their adventures at www.tkronaboat.com.)

Thankfully, our passage from the Northwest Channel to Nassau was almost perfect! (We even wished for a more wind, which is a rare request when sailing across the open ocean.) The sun was bright and hot, and the seas were smooth all day. Below us, thousands of feet of royal blue waters sparkled with shafts of sunlight.

Just south of Chub Cay, Alex caught a nice 43’ mahi mahi with our lucky pink squid lure. The fish put up quite a fight, and Alex eventually got it on deck to douse its gills with vodka. Piper and Luna had no idea what to make of the green, yellow, and bloody spectacle. Alex and I were beeming! Food for days!

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The entrance to Nassau Harbor was easy, and we radioed Nassau Harbor Control as required. Of course, we had not decided where we were going for the night, and the Harbor Control lady was not pleased that we didn’t have a reservation at a marina already. Oops…

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Nassau Yacht Haven became our home for the night, and we found Istar from Provincetown, MA in the slip right next to us. Stormy, Josiah, Nate, and Oriana were nice enough to share some wahoo steaks with us. A terrific fish feast of our mahi and their wahoo filled the Abby B. crew (dogs included) with enough omega-3s to last a year haha.

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Great Bahama Bank

We left Bimini full of anticipation and excitement for the next legs of our Bahamian sailing adventure! Our next planned stop would be Nassau en route to the Exumas.

Prior to departure, we joined Tim and Kathy on their boat Carina at the Bimini Blue Water Marina and listened to Chris Parker’s Caribbean weather forecast on their SSB (single side band) radio. In the States, getting weather information was no problem. But now, without a cell phone data plan and only spotty wi-fi, our access to reliable marine weather forecasts is extremely limited. We are so thankful that Tim and Kathy (and their dog Shamus!) were willing to share weather reports and cruising plans with us! An SSB radio is the latest item added to our growing “wish list” of cruising gear… along with a watermaker. And radar. And AIS haha. But that list is for another blog post haha.

Crossing the Great Bahama Bank is an endurance trip. It is wide and shallow, with a large shoal to avoid in the middle. After 70 miles, you’re faced with two options: anchor on the bank (unprotected, requiring calm seas) or sail through the night – neither of which is ideal. Our plan was to anchor on the bank and wait until morning. Then we’d enter the Northwest Channel on the way to Chub Cay in the Berry Islands, or perhaps all the way to Nassau.

As soon as Chris Parker reported that “tonight was as good as any to anchor on the bank” Tim, Kathy, Alex and I darted up to begin our departure preparations. There was a decent southeast wind (which would be right on our nose during the passage), but it was supposed to die down to as the day progressed. We hoped for an easy day of motoring/motor-sailing and calm waters for anchoring on the bank at night.

Instead, we faced steep chop all day. Each time the Abby B. hit a wave, our speed dropped below 5 knots. We were really slogging ahead slowly, with Tim and Kathy in Carina motoring ahead. As the sun set, Carina let us catch up and follow along better in the dark.

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Over the radio, we could hear other cruisers stopping for the night and complaining about the seas. All we could hope for was some protection behind a shoal to cut the height of the seas a bit, otherwise no one was going to get a good night’s sleep. And the dogs weren’t going to get to shore tonight…

Tim and Kathy expertly led us in behind a shallow area to the northwest of Chub Key / northeast of the Northwest Channel marker. Just past 9:30pm, we found ‘calm’ water and dropped anchor in about 14 ft. What a day…

Alex and I both woke up intermittently throughout the night and marveled at the most amazing night sky: more stars than I have ever seen!

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Tim and Kathy have a blog about their sailing adventures too: www.tkronaboat.com

Made it to Bimini, Bahamas!

We made it to the Bahamas! Two and a half months after leaving Maine and 2,000 miles of Atlantic coastline/Intracoastal Waterway – we are finally here! And what a trip it’s been!

On Tuesday night, January 13th, we anchored the Abby B. in No Name Harbor, Key Biscayne, Florida (southeast of Miami) in preparation for a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream to Bimini, Bahamas.

The Gulf Stream crossing is one of the most difficult passages of our entire trip. The force of the wind on the fast moving, northbound current can create immense, dangerous waves. The conditions can worsen quickly, and if that happens, you’re stuck 30 miles offshore with few options but to sail-on. Needless to say, the right weather window is necessary, and we had been waiting for optimal conditions for the last week or so to make the crossing.

Typically, any winds from the north can render the Gulf Stream passage very uncomfortable (and even impassable). In our case, the winds were supposed to remain light all morning and slowly clock around to the north around 10am. The weather window thus opened from Tuesday evening to Wednesday at noon – a narrow window… After consulting with several other cruisers looking to cross during the same window, we left No Name Harbor at 1:30am destined for the Bahamas.

Tired and admittedly nervous, our first mental obstacle of the transit was seeing a far-off lightning storm. Flash, flash, flash. Were those clouds coming our way? Given the low light conditions, it was hard to tell… if we wanted to turn around, now (3am-ish), this was our only chance. After a VHF conversation with another sailboat a couple miles off our stern, we decided to press on, hoping we wouldn’t encounter thunder and lightning in the Gulf Stream itself.

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And as sun rose over the Gulf Stream waters, conditions remained favorable! The clouds and lightning remained to the north and we maintained a great speed. We were motor-sailing at 6-7 kts, with the Gulf Stream’s current in our favor. The sunlight revealed the deep, perfect blue of the Gulf Stream surging below us. Flying fish leapt out of the water and over the rolling swells.

Around 7am, the winds veered to the north (3 hours earlier than forecasted) and the seas started to pick up. White caps dotted the waters all around us. (A warning from fellow sailors was to clear the Gulf Stream before 12pm or expect the worst.) We were due in Bimini around 9am, and were glad to be getting out of the Gulf Stream sooner rather than later. The increasing winds pushed us along at 7-8 kts and Bimini got closer and closer on the horizon. Nearing the marked harbor entrance, perfect turquoise shallows surrounded the island.

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We entered the harbor right on time at 9am. Glad to be out of the increasingly choppy offshore conditions, we sought refuge at one of the several marinas in the harbor. None of the Bimini marinas responded to radio hails (welcome to the Bahamas, haha), so we pulled into a slip at Sea Crest Marina, cleared customs, and hoisted the Bahamas courtesy flag before happily napping the rest of the afternoon away, exhausted.

We have now been in Bimini since Wednesday, soaking up the sun, and exploring the island and surrounding waters. We ended up moving to the cheaper ($1/ft) Blue Water Marina nearby, and even spent a night at anchor by the Bimini Big Game Club. Yesterday, we snorkeled the wreck of the Sapona off Turtle Rocks to the south of Bimini, and fished the Gulf Stream on the way back to North Bimini harbor, landing a small King Mackerel.

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Hopefully tomorrow, Tuesday, January 20th, we’ll set sail for the next leg of our Bahamian adventure: Bimini to the Northwest Channel, and eventually on to Nassau before we reach our final destination: the Exumas.

>>> Obviously the blog has fallen by the wayside as we adventured south. But with any wifi we find, we’ll be back-blogging, to fill in all the details of our trip down the Intracoastal Waterway from North Carolina to the Florida Keys! Thanks for reading – there’s lots more to come! <<<

Also, some necessary shout-outs to our friends along the way: Mike and Ben on Chloe, Tim and Kathy on Carina, Jay and Bridgette on Celest, and Stormy Mayo on Istar. All the way from New England and we found each other en route to Bimini! Such a small world.

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