Saturday, June 6, 2015

We are sometimes asked what sort of boat you need to go to the Bahamas.  Well, the near boat is a 22 foot Catalina sailboat and is worth maybe $3000.  The larger boat is a 70 foot long Sunreef sailing catamaran and is worth about $3,000,000.  We anchored beside them at Shroud Cay in the Exuma Islands.  We later saw the Pennsylvania registered Catalina in Marsh Harbour 150 miles farther north.

After years of examining every old bottle on every beach, Bill finally found a bottle with a message in it on Shroud Cay.

Rock Shore
Sand Shore
We took the fast ferry through the Devils Backbone Reef from Spanish Wells to Harbour Island.  It is a scary high speed ride between the rocky reefs and the nearby shore.

The view from the Sip Sip Restaurant on Harbour Island was every bit as good as the food.

St John’s Anglican Church was founded in 1768.

We stumbled upon Patti Wagon, a center console boat, floating without its engine south of Bakers Bay in the Abacos.  Here Bill is towing it to the police in Green Turtle Cay.

This palm tree lined beach is at Crab Cay at the north end of Great Abaco Island.  While the beach looks nice for walking, it has hundreds of ankle straining rocks.  It might be a good place for an orthopedics convention…

A Swiss sailboat was aground north of the Ben Sawyer bridge at Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina.  The ICW had shoaled from its designed 12 foot depth to near zero where he was.  We found 5.3 ft off his bow and slowly slid our 5 foot draft boat by.

An alligator came cruising by us in the early morning as we were leaving the South Santee River in South Carolina.

Hello from New Bern, NC.  Irish Eyes is tied in her slip.  Bill is fixing broken things.  I am splitting my time between putting things away on the boat, packing the Blazer for the trip to Kingsport, and most importantly, goofing off.

We have been traveling generally north since May 6 when we sailed out of George Town’s Elizabeth Harbour and into the Exuma Sound.  After a thunder storm filled night anchored between Big Farmer’s Cay and Galliot Cay, we moved on to Black Point.  I did our laundry at Ida’s wonderful Rockside Laundry while Bill worked on the boat.  We had two meals ashore with friends from Ursa Minor and Swell Horizon.  We couldn’t linger long in Black Point.  Our visas were nearing their expiration, and we needed to find an immigrations official to get an extension of our leave to stay.  It was time to move on.

We sailed north up to Hawksbill Cay where we stopped for two nights. The sand flats on the north end of Hawksbill were beautiful.  The sand color ranged from white to pink, the water contained every shade of blue an artist could imagine, the cays on the horizon were green from the recent rain, and white cotton clouds filled the sky.  We wandered around for hours one morning just taking in the scenery.

Shroud Cay, a mere 5 miles away, was our next stop.  There we took the dinghy up the southernmost creek, through the island, and over to the ocean side.  On the beach Bill found a corked empty wine bottle with a message inside.  The bottle had only been in the sea for a week.  Bill added a post script to the note and re-launched the bottle.

Continuing north, we sailed up to Ship Channel Cay, anchored for the night, and left early in the morning for Spanish Wells in Eleuthera.  It was an all-day sail with the morning spent passing through an area filled with boat grabbing coral heads that rose almost to the surface. Thankfully the sun was shining, and we could easily see and steer around them.  We anchored off Meek’s Patch, a small island near Spanish Wells.

Our guide book said that Spanish Wells was a port of entry, and we thought we could renew our visas there.  We hopped in the dinghy and started on the three mile trip from Meek’s Patch to Spanish Wells.  That did not work.  We got soaked by the wind driven chop as we came around the corner of Meek’s Patch.  So, we did the intelligent thing; we motored over in Irish Eyes, anchored outside the narrow, shallow, and busy commercial harbor, and then took the dinghy into town.

While there was a customs office in Spanish Wells, the immigration office was a ferry and taxi ride away at the airport.  Unable to conveniently renew our visas, we consoled ourselves on the patio of a restaurant with a few beers and lunch.  The grocery store in Spanish Wells had everything on our list.  Stumbling down the road carrying our load of groceries, we stopped at Budda’s Bar, Grill, and Liquor Store (a collection of a house, outdoor tables, and an old school bus) and bought the other things we needed, so the day was not a total loss.  We took Irish Eyes back to Meeks Patch for the night.

Not far from Spanish Wells was Harbour Island, playground of the rich and famous and known for its pink sand beaches.  We’d never been there.  From Spanish Wells there were several ways to make the trip.  The first was to take a small local ferry to North Eleuthera Island, a taxi across the island, and a second small ferry to Harbour Island.  That sounded too long and involved.  Second, we could take Irish Eyes to Harbour Island, but the trip by water passes through the aptly named Devil’s Backbone Reef, and the guidebook was full of the appropriate warnings and strongly suggested that a pilot be hired for both the trip over and the trip back.  The pilots have names like Bandit, Little Woody, A1 Broadshad, and Capt. Kirt (His ad says “Beam me up!”).  That option sounded too risky or too expensive and maybe with too much local color.  We chose to jump on the large high speed ferry from Nassau when it stopped in Spanish Wells and make the trip to Harbour Island that way. It was quite a ride.  The ferry roared through the miles of reef at 30 knots with spray flying as it weaved its way between the coral, the rocks, and the shore all of which slid by 50 yards away first on one side of the ship then on the other.  It was fun.

Harbor Island does have its pink sand, but it’s not the pinkest we’ve seen.  We did a little shopping then found a path to the beach and walked along the shore.  There were very few people on the beach.  I bet everyone was lounging around the pool at one of the many resort hotels, with drink in hand, and pecking away at their i-whatevers.  After a very nice and quite expensive restaurant lunch eaten among palms and sea grapes overlooking the ocean, we walked around the town stopping at a Bahamian shack for a Diet Coke served on their tree shaded patio. From there it was a short walk back to the air conditioned ferry for the return trip.

The next two days were not our usual pretty blue sky weather.  It rained off and on, and the wind blew.  We mostly stayed aboard reading; I knitted and Bill fixed broken things.  We filled our water tanks and several 5 gallon jugs with the rain water.  Our friends on Oh My! arrived and anchored nearby.  Bill and I went over to their trawler one evening for a beer and a chat.

On May 19 the weather began to clear, we put the dinghy on deck, and left on the 55 nautical mile trip across the Northeast Providence Channel to Abaco.  Our visas were nearing their expiration, and it was time to push on.  We left at sunrise.  The route took us over some of the deepest water in the Bahamas.  One place on the chart indicated 4529 meters or 14,859 feet – almost three miles to the bottom.  The wind was pleasant and the waves small.  After an all-day sail, we were in Abaco anchored off Lynyard Cay in time for supper.

The next afternoon we made the quick trip to Marsh Harbour.  It’s the largest town in the Abacos with all the government offices, and get this - a stoplight.  Our guide said the Immigration Office was in the Dove Plaza Shopping Center, a short walk from the town dinghy dock.  When we got to Dove Plaza, we learned the Immigration Office had moved to a new government building on the edge of town.  It was hot and sunny, but we survived the mile walk and got our visas extended for 30 days.  The best thing about the walk back was it ended at the Golden Grouper Restaurant.  Our lunch of grouper fingers for me and cracked conch for Bill was served in air conditioned comfort.  It was excellent.

We emptied the remaining jugs of rainwater into our water tanks, bought fuel for the boat and rum for us, and sailed out of Marsh Harbour on May 22 bound for Green Turtle Cay.  We were about half way there when we saw an unoccupied 19 foot center console motorboat named Patti Wagon just drifting.  Worried that someone might have fallen overboard, we put down our sails and motored over to investigate.  When we got closer I realized the boat did not have a motor.  The outboard was gone, the electrical cables had been cut, the steering cable was hanging over the transom, and the engine mounting bolts were laying in the cockpit.  Bill phoned the police in Marsh Harbour.  They asked us to tow the boat to Green Turtle Cay where an officer would be waiting.  We managed to tow both our dinghy and Patti Wagon the rest of the way to Green Turtle Cay… out the Loggerhead Channel into the ocean, around the ocean side of Whale Cay, and through the Whale Cay Channel back into the Sea of Abaco.  We got all that done without sinking either the dinghy or the motorboat and without getting either of two tow lines in our propeller.  We must have been an interesting sight to the passing boats.  Of course, when we got to Green Turtle Cay and were preparing to anchor, it began to rain by the bucket.

Bill towed Patti Wagon with our dinghy to the Government Dock at Green Turtle Cay.  He was gone for quite a long time.  I was beginning to worry that the police had detained him.  It just took him a while to fill out the statement.  The boat was owned by some people who live on Lubbers Quarters, another island in the Abacos.  Bill got a very nice email thank you from them.

Two other boats we know, Pearl and White Pepper, were also at Green Turtle Cay and headed north to the US.  All 6 of us enjoyed an afternoon swimming on the beach and then sundowners and supper at the Sundowner Grill.

The weather forecast was for 15 knot winds from the south or southeast with 2-4 foot seas for the next five days giving us a window to sail to Charleston.  On Monday the 25th we decided to sail a little farther north even though the wind was actually 20-25 knots, anchor for the night, then take off for the US on Tuesday.  We had a nice sail to Crab Cay at the north end of Great Abaco Island and anchored off the beach there. The chart described the palm tree shaded beach as a “Rubble Beach” and it was rocky.  Try as I might, I could not walk on it.

Tuesday morning we deflated the dinghy, put it on deck, and left.  The wind was stronger and the waves much higher than predicted making our trip in the Atlantic a little rolly.  We sailed only starting our engine to charge the batteries and cool the fridge.  It took us a little over 72 hours to reach Charleston.  We were tied to the Mega Dock at Charleston City Marina by late morning on the 29th.  Two Customs officers were walking down the dock looking for another boat.  They came on board and cleared us in.  While we were having our celebratory beer, a woman and a little boy who were walking down the dock spoke to Bill.  We ended up giving them a boat tour.  That took the place of my much needed nap, but it did not interfere with my much needed shower.  After supper at a restaurant, we went to bed and began clearing away our three nights of sleep deficit.

Because of the Spoleto Festival the marina was fully booked for the weekend.  We needed to leave Saturday morning.  The wind was coming out of the east, and that was the way we wanted to go, so we began motoring on the Intracoastal Waterway through the hordes of weekend small motorboat traffic.  As the day wore on, the boat traffic thinned out, but their place was taken by an even greater number of green head horseflies.  We killed them with flyswatters, shot them with bug shooters, and vacuumed them up with our Dust Buster.  We did not achieve the ‘final solution’, but we came close.  Anchoring for the evening in the South Santee River, we held them and their mosquito allies at bay with our screens and had a pleasant and cool evening in a pretty and lonely spot among the salt marshes.

Sunday morning we motored in the ICW to Winyah Bay, went out the inlet into the ocean, and sailed on an overnight trip to the Cape Fear River.  We arrived at the Cape Fear sea buoy in the dark, but the sun was up by the time we were in the river.  With the current from the rising tide behind us, the trip up the Cape Fear River and along the ICW to Wrightsville Beach was speedy.

We anchored at Wrightsville Beach for a few hours, then we went out Masonboro Inlet around 5pm for another overnight sail, this time to Beaufort.  We entered the Beaufort Inlet at sunrise, started our engine, motored in the ICW through Morehead City and north to the Neuse River.  From there it was just final few hours to our slip at North West Creek Marina.  We were putting in our air conditioner when the thunderstorm we had been watching caught up with us.  The storm did not last long, and soon Irish Eyes was washed of her salt, cooling down, and drying out.

This year’s trip was great.  It was fun, and we got to see some new places.  It was good to be tied to our home dock at last.  We should be back in Tennessee soon.

Have a wonderful summer.

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