We got a window to leave George Town on Sunday, May 24th, and after getting underway around 10 am, we motored out of Conch Cay Cut at the north end of Elizabeth Harbour for the last time and pointed the bow north for a 40 mile crossing of Exuma Sound to Cat Island. With winds on the beam, we had a great sail across the sound, and after reaching the shallow banks of Cat Island around 5 pm, we decided to continue sailing 10 more miles to New Bight, where we got the anchor down in time to enjoy a nice dinner and wait - for a massive squall to hit us during dinner! We had been pointing southeast at anchor behind the protection of the island, when we noticed that the air had become very calm.
Catering primarily to sport fishers who come to take advantage of the marina's proximity to great offshore fishing waters (less than a mile from marina to marlin), the marina's "channel" was extremely narrow, marked by tiny buoys that nearly touched our hull as we slowly motored in against a strong current. We made it into our slip and tied up, glad to be in a protected place to work on the electronics and do some sightseeing on Cat Island. Dave fixed the autopilot (by simply disconnecting the power wires for a while, allowing the course computer to reset), and Nancy arranged a rental car for the next day's exploration. We bummed fresh fish for dinner from some of the several sportfishers who came in at the end of the day, then hung out in the fresh water pool and relaxed. Early the next day we picked up our rental car and a short list of sights to see - a somewhat pretty beach at Devil's Point, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the beach, the very old and dilapidated Andrew Deveaux plantation house (which dated to the 1700's), the Father Jerome designed St. Francis of Assisi church, and finally the jewel of Cat Island, the Hermitage.
The most famous cleric of the Bahamas was one Father Jerome. First trained as an architect, then ordained an Anglican priest, he came to the Bahamas in the early 1900s. He designed two famous churches in Clarence Town on Long Island, one Anglican and the second Catholic (after he changed his affiliation from the Church of England to the Church of Rome and became a Catholic priest). After doing mission work in Australia, Father Jerome eventually came to Cat Island, where he designed at least one church before his retirement to the highest point in the Bahamas, a hill 206 feet above sea level. In retirement he designed and built by hand his final and most lasting monument to God - the Hermitage.
On Wednesday, May 27th, we departed the marina bound for Little San Salvador, about 40 miles away. Less than an hour after slipping from the banks into the deep water at the island's edge, we quickly hooked up a big mahi-mahi. After fighting the fish for a while, it got away, but only to save room in the freezer for our biggest fish yet, a 54 inch bull mahi-mahi that hit the line a couple of hours later. With Nancy at the helm, expertly controlling the boat, Dave, with much assistance from Chris and Josh, slowly reeled in the fish to Liberty's side in a 45 minute fight. Once gaffed and on board, and covered in a nice warm blanket (a big, wet, fish-blood stained beach towel) and offered a welcome cocktail (a squirt of rum to the gills), the fish settled down to his fate and provided us with fresh fish for the grill that night and five more huge packages for the freezer.
The winds were very light, so we sailed under our spinnaker for most of the trip to Little San Salvador, arriving around 5:30 pm. Little San Salvador is a jewel of an island perched between the eastern tip of Eleuthera and the western tip of Cat. It was purchased a few years ago by a cruise ship line that renamed it Half Moon Cay, and now huge Carnival cruise ships anchor every day to disgorge thousands of pasty-white Midwesterners on the beautiful beach to sunburn, play, ride horses, fish, and frantically take in the island sights during their 8 hour stop in paradise. Cruising sailboats share the anchorage, and sometimes after the cruise ships weigh anchor cruisers will slip ashore, befriend the local workers, and get to partake of the toys! Liberty pulled in to the anchorage just as a huge Carnival cruise ship was pulling out. We dropped the anchor in 15 feet of wonderfully clear water and swam around the boat for a while, watching as the workers on shore rearranged beach chairs and prepared for the next day's onslaught of tourists. With our dinghy up in the davits and outboard stowed, we did not try to go on shore, but maybe next time? After a wonderful dinner of grilled fresh mahi-mahi, we turned in early, ready for a 24 hour passage around the northeast (Atlantic) side of Eleuthera Island bound for the Abacos. As we were pulling up the anchor the next morning at 7:30 am to get underway, another huge Carnival cruise ship was pulling in, its passengers treated to a breakfast view of our little Liberty sailing out of the anchorage within a few hundred feet under full sail.
After a couple of hours underway, we had sailed across the 70ft. deep bar connecting Little San Salvador, Cat Island and Eleuthera Island, and we were in the deep waters of the Atlantic on the east side of Eleuthera. With light and diminishing winds, we drifted lazily along under our spinnaker, rounding the northeast elbow of the island and turning northwest as the sun was setting. Eventually the motor came on for most of the night as we made our way towards the Abacos, and as the sun rose, the wind came up, allowing us to sail the last couple of hours to the cut at Little Harbour. Once inshore, after checking out anchorages near Lynyard Cay (where we anchored in 2008 with our friends on Tauá, Eira and Sand Dollar), we decided to take a mooring ball in Little Harbour. Accessible even by our shallow draft boat only at mid-tide or higher, we entered the channel on a rising tide just in advance of squally weather.
After speaking with Chris Parker on Saturday morning about the weather for the next few days between the Bahamas and North Carolina, we thought we had a possible weather window to depart the Abacos on Monday for a 4 day passage back to the USA. Up early and underway, we waved goodbye to Peter, Monika and Claudia on Tauá and headed out of the anchorage to Marsh Harbour for a quick stop to take on provisions and make a final check of the weather. When we spoke with Chris that day, he advised us that we should get offshore that evening or risk possible foul weather a few days later when we would be arriving in the Carolinas.
On the way north to Marsh Harbour we sailed by the beautiful pink sand Tahiti Beach, exposed only at low tide, and since the tide was low at the time and Marsh Harbour was only a couple of hours away, we stopped for a little while to play. Arriving at Marsh Harbour in the early afternoon, we topped off the diesel tanks, bought a few provisions, and checked the weather again. It seemed that a low pressure system was possibly going to form off the Carolina coast on Thursday, so that if we left the Bahamas immediately and made good time, we might make it to North Carolina before the weather turned foul, or we might get walloped in the last few hours of a four day passage. We decided to wait 'til the next morning to talk with Chris Parker, and when we did he confirmed that it had been a good decision to wait. We decided to meander through the Abacos, heading west towards Great Sale Cay where we could wait for a good weather window and be closer to the Gulf Stream to make for a faster passage north.
We hung out at Great Sale Cay on Friday, with cloudy, squally weather hampering our efforts to enjoy our last days in the Bahamas. We did make it to the beach for a few minutes, and tried in vain to find a good snorkeling spot, and explored some pretty mangrove creeks by dinghy, but mostly we waited in the rain, hoping for a good long range forecast the next day.
On Saturday morning the long range forecast looked good for a 3+ day passage to Beaufort, North Carolina. In the morning weather broadcast, Chris advised (as he had pretty much every day beginning in early May) that with summer weather in the Bahamas there was always a chance of squalls, some with winds of 30 to 50 knots. He also advised us that we did have a good window for our sail to the USA, so after burning a week's worth of trash on the beach and making final preparations for sailing offshore we got underway shortly after noon, with just 500 miles to go!
We enjoyed beautiful sailing to the west under full canvas in 15 to 20 feet of clear water over the white sands of the Little Bahama Bank for a few hours, occasionally seeing squalls on the radar and the horizon. Our course would take us to the northwestern edge of the Little Bahama Bank, where we would cross the White Sand Ridge into deep water, turn northwest and then merge with the Gulf Stream late in the evening. Then we would turn north and sail in the Gulf Stream for the next 3 days, bound for Beaufort, NC. As late afternoon approached, while we were still sailing on the banks about 10 miles north of a tiny island called Mangrove Cay, we began seeing lots of squalls on the radar, forming several miles in front of us, with massive thunderheads towering towards the heavens. As we got closer to the cloud banks, they got darker, and we realized that several squalls were growing and merging. Almost at the exact instant that we decided to change course and turn south to try to get out of the way of the squalls, we got slammed with huge winds, with all our canvas still up. We quickly released the main and mizzen sheets, furled in the jib, and turned on the motor. The squalls filled in behind us and we were completely enveloped, with driving rain and winds that were building to over 40 knots. With Nancy at the helm turning as far into the wind as our motor would drive us, Dave dropped first the main sail then the mizzen, and with the winds building to over 50 knots we furled out a tiny scrap of jib and began sailing southwest, very fast, paralleling the squall as it moved northeast. Within about an hour, the winds began to die down, we were tired, wet and cold, and we faced an important decision - continue sailing south another hour or more to Mangrove Cay where we could drop an anchor for the night, rest up, and get back underway early in the morning, or turn back to the northwest, dry off and continue sailing towards home. We dried off and turned west, sailing into a beautiful setting sun. The squall had blown us a little over 5 miles off course, and stopped our forward progress for nearly two hours.
A couple of hours after we decided to keep going, we wondered if we'd made the right call, as we watched on the radar as another huge line of squalls began forming 5 to 10 miles ahead of us. We sailed towards gaps in the squall line, and this time we dropped the mizzen sail, double reefed the main, and as we approached the squall line we furled in the jib. While the first squall had thrown a few lightning bolts our way, this one seemed to be a veritable Fourth of July celebration, with lighting crackling in the sky for miles around us, and huge bolts crashing down just hundreds of yards away. Once again the squalls seemed to envelope us as they continued to develop, rain began coming down in buckets, and it seemed that the far edge of the storm was always about 4 to 5 miles away. We nervously waited to be slammed with wind as we had before, but we felt ready for whatever the squall could throw at us. About two hours after first poking our bow into the squall line, we began to emerge from the other side, and we hadn't felt even the slightest breeze the entire time! As the squalls moved to the northeast and broke up, we turned northwest, shook out reefs and raised sails as the breeze filled in, and sailed off the Bahama banks. By 1 am we were at the edge of the Gulf Stream, and our speed picked up markedly.
Sunday at sea was gorgeous, with mild southerly breezes, very gentle swells and beautiful blue skies. We flew the spinnaker for hours on end, occasionally turned on the engine, made 7 to 8 knots over the ground, and enjoyed the best of what offshore sailing can be. No fish hit, but we were all in good spirits. On Monday morning we spoke again with Chris Parker, and he advised that low pressure was bringing squally weather to the Gulf Stream south of the Carolinas - exactly where we would be in 24 hours if we continued to swing northeast towards Beaufort. At 8:22 am, 44 hours into the trip, we had traveled 300 miles, for an average speed of nearly 7 knots! At about the same time we decided we did not want a squally repeat of our first afternoon, so we reset our course for Cape Fear, North Carolina, just under 200 miles away. The breeze slowly died on Monday, and we finally stowed the spinnaker and turned on the engine for the last 30 hours of the trip. We left the Gulf Stream on Monday afternoon, and motored north through glassy seas on the Continental shelf in just over 100 feet of water for the rest of Monday and Tuesday.
About 3:30 am Tuesday morning, Dave and Josh were on watch, playing a game of backgammon under a hanging flashlight in the cockpit. The radio crackled with the following transmission: "This is US Navy Aircraft Carrier 77 calling the vessel in position 31 degrees, 40 minutes north, 71 degrees, 6 minutes west, please come in." Nancy, who had gone off watch just 30 minutes earlier but was still falling asleep in the aft cabin, recognized our position and called up "that's us!" Dave radioed back, identifying us the sailing vessel Liberty, and quickly he spotted a single bright yellow light on the water. After turning on the radar, Dave realized the Navy ship was just over 7 miles away, and it called back "Sailing vessel Liberty, this is Aircraft Carrier 77, we are on a heading of 220 degrees at 20 knots and would like to maintain course and speed." We had been sailing northeast, and Dave fairly quickly determined we were on a collision course with the ship. At the speed the aircraft carrier was moving, it was impossible to know whether any course change would keep us apart, so Dave radioed back "Aircraft Carrier 77, this is Liberty, please figure out what course we need to be on, making just over 5 knots, and we'll change course as directed, because we trust your math better than ours." Just a few seconds later the Navy radioed "Liberty, this is Aircraft Carrier 77, you can maintain your course and speed and
Tuesday we continued to motor through glassy seas, and finally caught a nice 36" mahi-mahi in the morning. We had been emailing our friends on Eira, who we'd met in the Abacos in 2008 and who had settled in the Wilmington, NC area (near Cape Fear), and Menno had specifically requested "fresh fish" for when we got together. As soon as we got the fish filleted and in the fridge we emailed back "Fresh Fish!"
"Land Ho!" came at 3 pm, and by 4:30 we were calling US Customs and Immigration to announce our arrival and inform them of our intentions to stop at Bald Head Island Marina right inside the Cape Fear River channel entrance. At 5 pm we tied up, safe and sound after a 76 hour, 491 mile passage. Except for the squall, this was one of our lightest air passages yet, requiring 46 hours of engine time during the 76 hour passage. With the help of the Gulf Stream, we averaged just under 6.5 knots.
As of June 9, 2009, we have traveled 6560 nautical miles since leaving Texas on February 3, 2008.
In our previous update, we were back in George Town (again!), at anchor and waiting for favorable weather to start sailing north and west, back to the USA. We began writing this update on Monday, June 8, 2009 in the Atlantic Ocean about 80 miles southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, 330 miles and 48 hours into an expected 500 mile, 3+ day passage to Cape Fear, NC.
Shortly thereafter, Liberty began to be blown sideways, slowly at first, then fast enough to cause a smooth slick on the upwind side of the boat and some turbulence at the stern, almost as if we were dragging anchor (but we were not). After we had moved 200 feet (twice the anchor chain we had out), we stopped moving and turned into the wind and found ourselves face to face with a monstrously huge black squall. In the next hour, buckets of rain fell, the wind blew hard from every direction on the compass while we spun around our anchor in two full circles, and finally lightning bolts came cracking down near us, one so close that it caused our electronics to go haywire (they were still on after our arrival to the anchorage). The autopilot was beeping incessantly, telling us that the course control unit was not recognizing the main course computer (an indication that the autopilot main computer might be fried), and the squall put our already malfunctioning wind speed indicator fully out of its misery (it had stopped showing wind velocity, only direction, several weeks before). The squall finally moved off, but sent its little sibling back to torture us some more - at 3 am! At that point the wind shifted to blow squarely out of the southwest, meaning that the only land we were anchored behind for protection was 54 miles away at Great Exuma Island! After a pretty miserable, rolly night, we decided the next morning to sail (hand-steering, of course) the 10 miles back to the edge of the bank and take a slip at Cat Island's only marina, the Hawks' Nest.
Little Harbour is a small anchorage, completely surrounded by land except for the narrow, shallow entrance channel. Unfortunately, between squalls, the winds were quite calm and the mosquitoes quite large and hungry, but our mosquito netting over the cockpit kept us the right distance apart. We spent two days at Little Harbour, exploring a small beach and visiting the famous Pete's Pub. While on the beach we (Dave) committed the cardinal sin of not dropping an anchor in the sand on the beach, thinking we'd only be on shore for a few minutes looking for shells. We didn't notice the rising tide until, from the other end of the beach, we looked back for our dinghy and saw it floating away, several hundred yards from the beach and heading out to sea around a rocky headland extending out from the beach. While Dave ran along the very sharp rocks (barefoot, of course) trying to get to the end of the land where he could possibly save the dinghy, Nancy ran back towards town hoping to find someone with a boat who could help. Our family car was floating out to sea! Luckily, another cruiser anchored outside the harbour saw the dinghy floating away and Dave running on shore, figured out what was happening, and jumped into his dinghy to save ours. He caught it right at the cut, just about to be swept out to sea (the wind was blowing it out, even against the incoming tide).
Between Monday and Thursday, we sailed west through the Abacos, anchoring at Great Guana Cay, Manjack Cay (a favorite from our time there in 2008, and where launched the dinghy for a re-exploration of the beautiful mangrove creek there), and Allans-Pensacola Cay (where we revisited the "signing tree" where we left Liberty's sign last year, along with the antlers of Dave's November 2007 deer, which unfortunately had been removed as a souvenir by someone else). We arrived at Great Sale Cay on Thursday, June 4th, prepared to wait for the right weather window to begin our passage home.
we will turn to 180 degrees and slow down to 10 to 15 knots. Have a good evening. We will also turn on some lights." A minute later the ship turned on its huge, rectangular hanger bay lights. By the time it had executed its course change, it was less than 3 miles from Liberty. Dave radioed back our thanks, and ended with this transmission: "Aircraft Carrier 77, this is Liberty. My 9 year old son is on watch with me in the cockpit tonight, and we were wondering if you would mind launching an aircraft for us?" The aircraft carrier responded quickly, with a laugh, and informed us that while they had been rocking and rolling earlier that day, they were not conducting flight operations at this time, and apologized. However, about 10 minutes later they called back and informed us that if we could hang with them for a couple of hours, we'd see some exciting action in the morning. As they were steaming south at 20 knots, and we were going north at over 6, we figured that we'd be long out of sight (and couldn't keep up) by the time they began launching planes. We did scan the skies during the day Tuesday, hoping for a flyby, but that was the last of the Navy for this passage.
Designed as a miniature Franciscan monastery, complete with tower, chapel and living quarters, Father Jerome built it in such small dimensions that he could not stand erect when passing through any doorway, so as to always humble himself before God. On the steep, narrow and very rocky footpath leading up to the Hermitage, Father Jerome placed the Stations of the Cross, each carved in stone, ending in a small tomb at the top of the hill. While building the Hermitage, alone and by hand, Father Jerome lived in a nearby cave where he
held mass and served communion, and he ultimately made the Hermitage his retirement home. Perched atop the highest point in the Bahamas, the Hermitage offers stunning views of the deep blue water surrounding Cat Island as well as the aquamarine shallows in the large Bight at the southwest edge of the island.
Back at Hawk's Nest Marina we were given more fresh fish from the neighboring sportfishing boat, and we prepared for an early morning departure the next day to begin our passage to the Abacos, from where we would jump off for the return trip to the USA.
Later we celebrated on board with the crew and guests of Meridian, another sailboat that had picked up Nancy in their dinghy to help. While enjoying a glass of wine in the cockpit, their guest Steve asked if we had ever been to Elizabeth City, NC, and upon hearing we had, he mentioned that he was the mayor and he invited us back. Needless to say, we immediately let him know we hoped to be passing through in a few weeks and would call. We spent a couple of rainy, squally days in Little Harbour, departing on Sunday, May 31st at 1:45 pm after the tide had risen enough for us to get out without going aground. Our Swiss friends on Tauá were sailing in to the Abacos that same day, so we anchored just 3 miles away at Lynyard Cay, where Tauá joined us a short while later for a final reunion before we headed back to the USA and they back to their farm house in France.
Devil's Point, Cat Island
Nancy, Chris & Josh on Tahiti Beach, Abacos
Land Ho! Bald Head Island, NC, USA
Chris & Josh enjoy reading underway
We enjoyed the use of the marina's bikes
Our picnic lunch at Devil's Point
The Stations of the Cross
leading up to the Hermitage
View from the Hermitage atop
the highest point in the Bahamas
Chris & Josh barely fit through the doorways in the Hermitage - a reminder to humble yourself before God
The BIg One!
Dave shows off our largest fish ever - a 54" bull mahi-mahi
Chris & Josh out for a swim around the boat
The Carnival Miracle
pulled into our anchorage at Little San Salvador
A last sunset over the Bahamas
We were grateful to have our dinghy for this gull to rest on
Mayor Steve, Joan & Bill enjoyed
cocktails with us aboard Liberty
We said good-bye to Taua at Lynyard Cay
We saw lots of baby turtles
up the creek at Manjack Cay
Dinghy exploring up the creek at Manjack Cay
Playing on the beach at Allans-Pensacola Cay
Nurse shark close to shore
Dave raising the spinnaker
Seagull in flight, checking us out
We play lots of backgammon underway
Chris studies algae under
the microscope at sea
A mahi for our friends on Eira!
Little Harbour, Abacos