Dear Family and Friends,
We arrived in the Bahamas on April 7th. After a week and a half in West End on Grand Bahama Island, we moved on to Great Sale Cay and then the Abaco Islands. Our trip to Great Sale was challenging. The passage was a little less than 50 miles, with moderate winds forecast to be east or just south of east, fairly close to the nose. Our course had two legs, one northeast for about 15 miles, then a turn to the east for 30 miles. We were able to sail for the first couple of hours, which would have been nice, except that we nearly sunk one of our dinghies on the trip. We had decided to tow the boys' sailing dinghy, Independence, while keeping our inflatable Justice hoisted in the davits on our stern. An hour or so into our sail we looked back and saw that Independence was taking on water and was over half full. Dave tried to pull it up next to Liberty and jump in to bail it out, but as soon as his (less, but still considerable) bulk hit the seat, Independence sank to the gunnels, full of water and kept afloat only by the positive flotation foam under the seat. Nancy quickly turned Liberty into the wind to luff the sails and slow the boat, and Dave dropped Justice from the davits, releasing only the aft lift lines, and he lay on Justice, next to Independence, bailing her with a bucket until nearly empty. We got underway and tried towing again, watching carefully, but she was still taking on water and eventually Chris had to jump in with a hand pump to bail out the water. About then, we changed course, into the wind, so we dropped the headsail and switched Independence, the hard dinghy, onto the davits and we towed Justice. We motorsailed the next 5 hours to Great Sale Cay, arriving before some other boats that had passed us during our dinghy adventures. Lesson learned: when trying something for the first time (in this case, towing our hard dinghy), do it on a short trial run, not a 50 mile passage. We survived, and continued to increase our sailing knowledge the hard way.
Upon arriving at Great Sale Cay, we anchored in the midst of over 20 other boats, most heading west from the Bahamas and laying over at Great Sale to wait for a weather window to get to Florida, South Carolina or points even farther north. We and a few other boats we had met at West End were heading east to enjoy sailing the Abacos. The next morning, the window was good, and by 9 am we were one of only four boats still at anchor. We stayed for 2 days at Great Sale Cay (our first uninhabited island anchorage), relaxing, exploring beaches and fishing. Chris and Josh sailed Independence in the anchorage, and Chris even sailed it well over a mile all the way to the beach and back, as we dinghied there in the inflatable. He is getting more and more comfortable sailing on his own. Another boat from West End, Kokopelli Too with Greg and Betsy aboard, decided to stay at Great Sale for a couple of days also, so we got a chance to get together for drinks and get to know them better.
We left Great Sale Cay on Sunday, April 20 (Dave's 45th birthday) and sailed about 35 miles to Allans-Pensacola Cay. For much of the trip the winds were light, so we ghosted along at 3 knots, giving us ample time to enjoy a lunch of grilled fresh fish and rice (all cooked underway). We have already made a few cruising friends, and it turned out that many were in the anchorage at Allans-Pensacola when we arrived. As Dave was checking the anchor, Nancy quickly called them all on the radio and arranged an impromptu birthday party. One couple gave Dave the gift every cruiser always needs - an extra roll of American toilet paper!
We had planned to stay several days in Allans-Pensacola, but we cut it short due to an unexpected wind shift, so we plan to return on our trip back north. We stayed at Allans-Pensacola long enough to hike across the island to check out the beach on the Atlantic side and find the Signing Tree. It is traditional for cruisers leave something (a piece of wood, a fender, a message in a bottle) with their names and boat name and date to mark that they were there. We will leave something unique when we return. While Nancy relaxed on board, Dave, Chris and Josh went fishing in the dinghy. They caught a large (9 lb) mutton snapper, one of the best, right before weighing anchor to head to Cooper's Town where we would have good protection from the southwest winds that were forecast to be fairly strong overnight.
We sailed to Cooper's Town on Great Abaco Island, about two hours away, for just one night and a morning, doing a little shopping and walking the small town. We enjoyed cocktails aboard s/v Un Sea Sing with our friends Sonja and Charlie who had arrived from Allan-Pensacola earlier in the day. In the morning, we dinghied to shore and went to a grocery store. For those of you who have never cruised, envision a larger version of your local ExxonMart, without the coffee machines and all the refrigerated drinks. We bought 2 dozen eggs, some onions, some tomatoes, a small green pepper and two small bottles of water. The bill was $27! We drew the line at fresh milk. We just could not bring ourselves to pay $6.00 for a half gallon of milk. But, this is the Bahamas and, for the most part, we were prepared for these prices. Everything here is imported, mostly from the U.S. We have seen things from IGA, Publix and Kirkland (Costco's brand). On the other hand, as we were leaving the grocery store, the lady asked us if we ate papaya. She gave us a large papaya from a tree in her back yard. That would not have happened at Randall's! There is good in everything. We are enjoying the different cultures and the laid-back atmosphere. We enjoyed the papaya for breakfast with a fresh lime squeezed over it.
Around 10:45am we sailed off our anchor at Cooper's Town and had a wonderful sail to Manjack Cay. The winds were 8-10 kts., just aft of the beam and then on the beam. We sailed the entire 9 nm right into the anchorage, between other anchored boats, where we dropped our anchor under sail. We even grilled fresh mutton snapper for lunch on the sail over. There were many boats in the anchorage, most seeking protection from the forecasted NW winds, but there was plenty of space for everyone.
Bill and Leslie, an American couple, have built a house on Manjack and have lived here for the last 16 years. The house is powered almost exclusively by solar panels; they catch all their water into cisterns from the rooftops of the house, the cottage, the workshop, etc. While it may sound primitive, they actually live very comfortably. Their house is roomy and airy and has wonderful views. They enjoy the wildlife right from their front porch. The grassquits, doves and a Red-winged Blackbird will actually eat out of your hands. They have
enough water to maintain all their gardens; they have enough electricity to run a washing machine, a sewing machine, electric appliances, etc. Bill and Leslie are extremely generous and cruiser-friendly, welcoming cruisers to roam the property, maintaining trails to the beach, and broadcasting wireless internet to the anchorage. We are grateful for their hospitality.
We have spent the last five days anchored here at Manjack Cay, exploring the islands, creeks, beaches, and shipwrecks. Manjack Cay is a larger island surrounded by a few smaller islands (including Crab Cay, Fiddle Cay, Rat Cay and numerous unnamed rocks), and we can dinghy from one to the other. We are anchored in a beautiful, protected anchorage at the southwest side of Manjack (pronounced Munjack or Nunjack), offering us calm waters and beautiful views of the sunset each night (and the sunrise each morning, at least when we're up to see it).
One side of Manjack Cay is protected by the calm, clear waters of the Sea of Abaco. The alternating sand, sea grass and rock bottom create every shade of blue and aquamarine. You can see everything on the bottom right from the boat. Bright red and orange cushion sea stars are everywhere. Today the boys found one that was over a foot in across! Fish and baby sea turtles dart left and right and we are always on the lookout for something different....like the reef sharks we spotted off the beach the other day. We followed one in our dinghy for a long time. He knew he was being followed and darted back and forth to escape us. Nancy tried desperately to take pictures. They were only about 5 ft. long, but we dared not enter the water while they were around!
As we got out of our dinghy at one beach, a huge sting ray came right up to meet us. We have a picture of Chris standing ankle deep in the water with a ray at his feet. We didn't try to touch them, as we respect that they are wild creatures, although it was tempting. The sting rays are always so graceful as they glide through the water.
On the east side of Manjack Cay is the Atlantic Ocean, complete with breaking waves and wonderful sounds of the sea. We have dinghied right to the edge of where the Sea of Abaco meets the ocean. It is the most beautiful site. It was calm where we were and not calm just beyond us, as the waves broke on the reef and the limestone rock of the island, and the water rushed in. Right at the reef's edge the water is a bright, almost neon blue, contrasted by the pure white of the breaking waves. It was very cool to see the two mix and know that it really is only one body of water.
The islands here on the Bahama Banks are made of limestone. Our Cruising Guide to the Abacos (Dodge Guide) explains that the islands were built of calcium carbonate over a period of 200 million years and now tower about 1 ½ miles above the sea floor. The calcium carbonate was extracted from the sea in a variety of ways, including the growth and death of shell fish, the growth of coral reefs, and the creation of oolitic sand. The islands were built up higher than the rest of the banks when the sea level was up to 100 ft. higher than it is today. When the earth cooled and the polar ice caps re-formed, the sea level declined, leaving the limestone islands. Limestone is a soft rock and is easily subject to erosion by the waves, the winds and rain. As the tide goes out, (sometimes 3 ft.) you can see the caves and ledges at the island's shore, created by the erosion. The locals call the crusty upper side, covered with sharp edges, "ironstone." In some places, large pieces have broken off and lie in the water below. We have dinghied around the edge of several islands as the tide was falling. We have seen crabs, chitons, snails and various types of starfish on the limestone edge, including one starfish that was bright orange and another that was purple. We have many books on fish and reef life and the boys have fun identifying it all. They are quite proficient at it.
While at Manjack, we rigged the boys' sailing dinghy, and Chris enjoyed a couple of days of sailing around the boats anchored in the harbor (sometimes up to 20 of them) and even sailing to a distant beach (still within view) to explore on his own. "Independence" appears to be aptly named. Chris also had a chance to do his first windsurfing. Bill & Leslie keep a couple of windsurfers at the island, and one day Ben, a young man living in their guest cottage as an informal intern, showed Chris how to windsurf. The breeze was a little too stiff for Chris' 80 lb frame to keep the sail up, so Ben surfed with Chris on a big, wide board. They windsurfed all over the anchorage, and we got several good pictures. Christopher is justifiably proud of his growing mastery of sailing craft.
On our first day at anchor in Manjack, we saw a dinghy filled with kids cross the anchorage, heading for a chartered Moorings catamaran. We stopped by to visit, and later enjoyed drinks and appetizers with the family on board, visiting from Boston. Chris and Josh had lots of fun running around their big boat with the other kids, even though they were all girls - 4 of them. John is an investment manager at a real estate hedge/investment fund, so he and Dave even got to talk some shop. During the conversation they mentioned meeting a cruising family on a catamaran several years ago in Buzzard's Bay, MA, their home sailing ground. As soon as they mentioned twin boys, we thought of Snow Cat, a family we met in Belize in 2005 with twin boys aboard. Sure enough, it was the same family. The cruising community is pretty small, and during our short time in the Bahamas we have already run across several other boaters who cruised the NW Caribbean the same year we did, and we often find in conversation that we have mutual friends.
Tomorrow we hope to move on from here. We will sail south and explore peaceful tropical islands and exotic towns that await us. There is a shallow bar running between Treasure Cay on Great Abaco Island and Whale Cay that will force us to sail out the Whale Channel into the Atlantic for part of the passage south. This channel is impassable in high seas, created by north winds, but should take only an hour tomorrow with the forecast southeast winds of 10 to 15 knots. After rounding the Whale we plan to anchor at Great Guana Cay for a couple (or more) days, then move on to Marsh Harbour for propane and groceries and gasoline.
We will update again soon. Until then, fair winds to all, and our best regards.
Dave, Nancy, Chris & Josh
Aboard s/v Liberty, anchored at Manjack Cay in the Sea of Abaco, Bahamas
Josh hanging out at the beach at Manjack Cay
Chris and Josh sail
Friends celebrating Dave's birthday
We caught this 9 lb. Mutton
Snapper from the dinghy
Girls going to school in Cooper's Town
Liberty under sail in the Sea of Abaco, Bahamas
The Grasquits ate right from Josh's hand
Chris fed the Grasquit by hand
The anchorage at Manjack Cay
Dave & Chris watch the
waves roll in off the Atlantic Ocean
Reef shark off the beach at Manjack Cay
We explored the creek
at Manjack Cay by dinghy
Baby sea turtle in the creek,
as seen from our dinghy
This stingray greeted us at the beach
Atlantic Ocean meets the Sea of Abaco
Atlantic Ocean meets the Sea of Abaco
The ocean blasts through
this hole in the limestone
Chris & Josh at the Atlantic
Ocean at Manjack Cay
"Ironstone" - the island's limestone
is being eroded by the Sea of Abaco
Here, the limestone has broken
off into the water
Chris and Ben windsurf in the anchorage
Sunset over the Sea of Abaco, Bahamas
This is how we get around when we are at anchor