We made it to the Bahamas, and we absolutely love it here! Here’s the scoop on getting here from Jamaica…
The Windward Passage
After much waiting and deliberation over weather forecasts in Port Antonio, Jamaica, we finally spotted a few days with a reasonable outlook. We hauled anchor and left for the 240 mile, three day and two night passage to the southernmost tip of the Bahamas. A rough patch right in the beginning had me digging for the Dramamine, but after that the seas calmed down and we motor-sailed at a good clip almost the entire way. The wind and sea state were about as great as they ever get in that often dangerous section of water.
We felt like the only boat around for a million miles, except when we were rounding the Eastern tip of Cuba around midnight, when it suddenly felt like we were a sloth crossing a multi-land highway. I saw 4 cruise ships during one 4 hour watch shift, and the big container ships were passing us left and right.
Strangely, we didn’t see any wildlife, not a single dolphin, whale, bird or fish, however, the phosphorescence was spectacular I think I say that about almost every passage, but I really mean it! Instead of a vague greenish glow, it was intense flashes of light, each about a foot across, popping up all over our wake. The stars were also amazingly bright. With zero light pollution and not much else to do, we spend hours hanging out with Orion and Casiopia.
Landfall in the Bahamas; Great Inagua
We finally arrived in Matthew Town on Great Inagua. We anchored in water so unbelievably bright blue. I thought I had seen turquoise waters before, but this is it!
Matthew Town is a quiet little village with not a lot going on. On our first dinghy trip to shore, we stumbled upon the town excitement of the week: two bulldozers trying to drag a sunken vessel out of the “yacht basin”. Apparently it was in bad shape when customs seized the boat full of drugs a few months ago, then Hurricane Sandy finished her off.
It wasnt the only sunken boat in the basin, apparently this Catalina only went down a few days prior to our visit. Aside from a few local fishing boats, the only other boats in the basin were a trio of wooden sailboats from Haiti. We were fascinated by these boats. Made by hand from wood, tree trunk for a mast, cheap poly line for all the standing and running rigging, rebar for rudder posts and no motor propulsion. How cool is that! We chatted with a few guys repairing their gigantic gaff rig sails by hand (the entire sail inventory was all sewn by hand) and were so impressed by their ingenuity and motivation to build better lives for themselves.
Now that his trials and tribulations are over, I have to make a confession about poor Apollo. This little guy deserves some kind of award for best boat doggie ever. Due to strict quarantine laws in Jamaica, no dogs are allowed off their boats. At all. For almost two months. Ugh! What a little trooper though. After the initial battle of the wills (us: “do your business on the bow”, him: “no, the beach is right there”, us: “doesn’t matter, you gotta do it here”, him: “don’t be so lazy, the dirt is so close”, us: “sorry dude”, him: “fine, I’ll hold it”, us: *sigh*) he finally came around and cooperated with Jamaica’s ridiculous rule. He’s no stranger to long stretches on the boat though, so we employed all his best on-board exercise tactics: tug-o-war, fetch up and down the companionway a million times a day, barking at dinghies that come too close to his boat, and, his all-time-favorite: the “dot”, aka a laser pointer. Needless to say, Apollo LOVES the Bahamas, where he can run around and pee on dirt to his heart’s content!
The anchorage at Matthew Town was a roadstead- an open anchorage with no protection from wind or swell. As we waited for 72 hours for the next weather window, we had the misfortune of having wind holding us at 90 degrees to the swell. Translation: we rocked and rolled all day and all night long. I think this was probably the most drastic roll we have ever experienced. By this point I can sleep through just about anything, but you know its bad when you can’t wait to get onto your next overnight passage so you can finally get some rest!
Our (hopefully) last overnight in a while; Great Inagua to Long Island
We have been looking forward to putting these months of long-distance passage making behind us. Now that we are in the Bahamas, everything is much closer together. The run to Long Island was 150 miles, the last overnight we’ll have to do for a while. As soon as we pulled up anchor Elan began putting out the fishing lines, and I hadn’t even finished securing the anchor on the bow before he already had a fish on.
We thought this bad boy was a wahoo, a delicious eating fish, but it was way more meat that the two of us could make use of, especially at the beginning of a passage, so we let him go. Since then, we decided he was actually a barracuda, and at that big size they are prone to cigaterra anyway, so it was probably a good decision.
The rest of our passage was uneventful, and we made good time to Clarence Town, Long Island.
Clarence Town, Long Island
As we were preparing to enter the channel into Clarence Town, I was on the bow on coral lookout. I was shocked to see that the water became shallow much sooner than it should have and I began frantically signaling to Elan to turn around. As it turns out, we were still in over 50 feet of water, but the water is so crystal clear that I assumed the bottom was much closer than it really was. We dropped our anchor in 9 ft in the lee of Strachan Cay; what a beautiful anchorage. Low sandy islands, rocky reefs and white sand beaches made up our 360 view.
The many beaches surrounding this anchorage provided some amazing shell hunting over the next few days. A friend on another boat introduced us to sea beans; they grow in big pods on some sea plant and then wash up on the beach. They feel like hard wood, some are shaped like hearts and some are shaped exactly like a tiny hamburger. Elan’s been shining them up so I can make them into some kind of jewelry.
We cant get over how friendly and welcoming everyone in the Bahamas is. You cant walk down a road without people stopping to ask if you need a ride. One day we were picked up on our 30 second walk to a restaurant by a nice couple, expats from Wisconsin, which turned into an all-day adventure hitchhiking around the island to their home, their favorite hangout, their friend’s house. Throw in a little conch salad, rum punches, and some homemade pickled jack, and it was an unexpected but memorable day.
Since catching the barracuda, I have been determined to catch something we can actually eat. We did some fishing from the dinghy, had several bites, but only managed to catch more barracuda, like this little guy.
It seems barracuda are the only big fish that hang out in the areas shallow enough to anchor. In fact, every time I try to swim off, it seems there is a barracuda waiting for me under the boat. I doubt they’d hurt me, but it is a little too unnerving how curious they are, especially because some of them are as tall as I am. I love this clear water, but sometimes I’d rather not be able to see all those beady eyes looking back at me!
We weathered out a several day long blow here, but still enjoyed the relaxing days, fishing, reading, checking out a blue hole, and beach combing.
Calabash Bay, Long Island
We had a nice motor-sail up the west side of Long Island and around the north end to Calabash Bay. Again, it was like anchoring in a swimming pool. I am beginning to think that everyone should learn to anchor in the Bahamas. Clear water, shallow depths, soft sandy bottom, it doesn’t get any easier than that! As our anchor goes down, I can actually see it catch and dig in, and if for whatever reason we are wondering what it is doing, we can just dingy over to it later and look straight down on it.
The beach at Calabash was breathtaking. Pristine white, powder fine sand, that felt like walking in flour… ok, I don’t know exactly what that would feel like, but its gotta be something like this.
During our 2 night stay in Calabash, we had much to celebrate. Sure, February 14th was Valentines Day, but February 15 marks our 1 year anniversary since officially shoving off the dock in San Diego. I can hardly believe that was 6,500 nautical miles, 8 countries, and all those memories ago. “Time flies when you are having fun,” doesn’t even begin to cover it! We are so blessed to be out here doing what we love, and give thanks every day that we have had the health, circumstances and a little luck to make our dream reality.
Blissful Sail to Great Exuma
Our sail from Long Island to George Town on Great Exuma was picture perfect. It was that over-romanticized daydream vision I had of what cruising would be like: sunny skies, turquoise water, full sails up, motor off, 15 knots of wind on the beam, making 5+ knots in the exact direction we wanted to go, only 30 miles from anchor to anchor and a good book in my hand. After a year of cruising, I now know how rare those days actually are!
Right now we are anchored in Elizabeth Harbor outside of George Town. What do I say about George Town? Well, it’s a little town of only a few hundred people that is hosting almost 300 cruising boats at the moment. Crazy! The fact that there is good protection, easy provisioning, free potable water, a small airport, and all only a couple hundred miles from Florida means this is one of those places where cruisers get “stuck”. It’s clear that many folks come planning to stay a few days and end up staying for months. Or years.
We took advantage of the airport and arranged a spontaneous visit from my cousin Greg. The weather did its best to keep us tied to the boat for the 3 days he was here, but we managed several wet dinghy adventures to town and out to Stocking Island.
A nice thing about having so many boats in George Town is that we have hooked up with a great group of YOUNG cruisers. We have no complaints about the fact that most of our sailing friends are of a different generation, but there is also something really nice about hanging out with people our age too. We tend to be in similar situations: we mostly built up older boats ourselves, scrapped together a few bucks for cruising on a budget, and don’t plan on being out here forever- it’s not a permanent retirement, it’s a just retired-for-the-moment plan. I guess we like the fact that meeting other kids in our situation means maybe we aren’t so crazy after all! And we DO get called the “kids” by other cruisers, but I kinda like that too… it could maybe, sorta, possibly be due to the fact that my 30th birthday is lurking right around the corner, but I’m making no confessions!
Anyhow, we’ll be sticking around George Town for another day or two, then making progress northwest up the Exuma chain. Looking forward to short hops, a less crowded anchorage, and hopefully skin diving for conch.
Take care, and lots of love from us to you!
Ashley, Elan and Apollo