The Passage Home

After the best night’s sleep in several days, we woke up refreshed and ready to get some tasks taken care of.  While I worked on updating the blog, Moray fixed a broken lifeline, moved the fishing rod holders, serviced the outboard motor and adapted a SUP paddle he had found while snorkeling for use in the dinghy.

That done, we went ashore to Rock Sound to take a look around.  We walked as far as the Market Place, where there were several stores, but in the British tradition, they were closed because it was Wednesday afternoon!  We found the laundromat and then stopped at Wild Orchids for a Kalik.  It appears that this restaurant has been bought and sold several times over recent years, but it looks as though the current owners are working on expanding the deck area, which will be great.  After leaving there, we walked to the highly recommended Sammy’s.  The menu appeared to be extensive, but we soon learned that it is quicker just to ask what they have that day!  It wasn’t an issue, as the conch fritters, mahi, and BBQ combo (pork chop, chicken and ribs) were all excellent!

We spent a couple of relaxing days anchored in Rock Sound Harbor, taking care of laundry, grocery shopping, chatting with friends on the phone, etc.  We had been keeping an eye on the weather forecast and decided on Saturday morning to move across from Rock Sound Harbor to Poison Point, where there would be protection from the south winds and waves.  Moray jumped in to check on the anchor and then went snorkeling.  He came back saying that he had seen lots of large crabs, so he went back to the spot with the dinghy, gloves, gaff etc. to see what he could find.  He came back with two large, very active crabs (channel clinging crabs aka reef or spiny spider crab, or coral crab)!  We put sea water in the sinks and put the crabs in them, while we researched how to kill, clean and cook them.  Even with the instructions we found, we had quite a time trying to deal with them, but eventually they were steamed and ready to be eaten.  The meat was very tasty and we made crab rolls from them, but on balance, we probably won’t do it again!

The next day was a fairly lazy day, as we waited for the storms to arrive.  It rained on and off during the day, so we relaxed inside, listening to music and booking flights for our trip back to the UK over the summer!  It’s so exciting to be going home for 4 months!  And thank goodness for air-miles!!

The storm arrived, with heavy rains and winds around 30 knots, but our anchor held beautifully and we were comfortable.  Just 3 miles away, in the marina at Cape Eleuthera, they were hit by a microburst, with winds at 110 knots and hail.  We heard that some boats broke loose, but all were undamaged and everyone was safe.  Eventually, the storm died down around 3am and we finally made it to bed.  We had planned to move back up to Rock Sound Harbor once the storm had passed, but instead we moved slightly further east and dropped anchor by a Blue Hole.  We jumped in and snorkeled around the hole for a while.  There were a lot of mutton snapper and yellow fin tuna there, so once we were done, Moray went back over with the pole spear and came back with a snapper.  The weather continued to be calm so we decided that we would stay put, and in the morning, revisited the Blue Hole, this time with scuba gear.  It was a fairly shallow dive, about 23ft, but interesting to investigate deeper down in the hole, under the ledges we couldn’t reach while snorkeling.  It turned out that 2 “caves” at either end of the blue hole were actually tunnels that dropped down rapidly.  We had not brought our dive lights so Moray stopped when he reached 45ft and was surrounded by darkness and big fish.  He felt a current pull against him in one of the tunnels so it must have been joined elsewhere to another body of water.

After a week in the Rock Sound Harbor area, it was time to continue our journey northwards.  We headed up to Governor’s Harbor, and dropped anchor as close into the shore as we dared.  This is the most populated place we have visited in a while, with some very large houses nestled among the trees on the hillside.  There was a fisherman selling his catch on the beach, and while we had a drink at Da Perk, we watched a constant stream of cars pulling up and purchasing fish or conch salad.

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local fisherman preparing his catch for sale

One of the reason for coming to Governor’s Harbor was to visit the dive store, get our tanks refilled and buy new computer batteries.  Unfortunately, the dive store no longer does tank fills and appeared to be more of a spearfishing store than dive store.  They gave us the number of someone who might be able to fill the tanks and suggested that we might be able to get the batteries we needed at the grocery store.  The grocery store couldn’t help us.  And when we called the guy about the tank fills, he wanted $20 per tank, plus a $60 fee to come and pick up the tanks!  Now we both love to dive, but $100 for tank fills seemed a bit steep, so we decided to decline!  We had been the only boat in the harbor when we arrived, but by nightfall, several others had arrived.  Dinner that night was another variation on the Mahi-Mahi; bacon wrapped over a bed of rice.

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mmmmmahi-mmmmahi

The next morning, we went for a stroll around town.  We walked along the shore and round to the government dock area.

We also met a couple, Ted and Mili, from Morning Glory.  After chatting with them for a while, we walked up to the resort at the other end of the town.  It’s a nice looking resort with pretty chalets, a restaurant and pool.  It looks as though it must be doing well as more chalets were being constructed.  It’s nice to see someone succeeding as there are so many abandoned hotel and resort projects scattered throughout the Bahamas.

Once back at the boat, we decided to go for a swim, so swam over to Morning Glory to say hello again!  After about an hour in the water, we headed back to the boat to get ready for an early start the next day.  We needed to time our arrival at Current Cut so that we would have the easiest possible passage through the Cut on our way to Spanish Wells.  As we arrived at the Cut, we saw Tackless Too, a boat we had first met in George Town, who were headed to Royal Harbor to have their boat hauled out, so we spoke with them for a couple of minutes before continuing on our way.  This was the beginning of a bad week for me, as far as steering the boat is concerned.  We tried to anchor in the main anchorage, but after a couple of failures to get the anchor to set, we moved around to another anchorage.  On the way there, I managed to run us on to a shoal  [Moray’s note: There are only 2 types of sailors; those who have run aground and liars :)].  We got off the shoal fairly quickly, but I was stressed about it.  It took another three attempts before both Moray and I were happy with our position, but finally, we were settled.  We took the dinghy in to town, and headed up to the Shipyard for a couple of drinks and a selection of appetizers, which were excellent.  While walking through Spanish Wells we saw a single car ferry run by a man who dressed like he was Amish but could not be as his ferry had an outboard motor 🙂  He would carry vehicles from Spanish Wells to Russell Island or the mainland of Eleuthera

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The Amish ferryman!

After making a couple of phone calls the next morning, we loaded the scuba tanks into the dinghy and headed into town.  We went quite a way, past the marina and round to a private dock where the scuba store was.  We dropped off the tanks, and walked over to a bakery, and then to a grocery store, where we managed to get fresh cilantro and sour cream.  We picked up the tanks and headed back to Sol Purpose.  The anchorage had been rolly the night before, but now it was even worse, so we decided to move back out to Meeks Patch, where we thought it might be a bit more settled.  If not, at least we would be cutting an hour from the following day’s run to the Abacos.  There were already several boats there, and it was much more comfortable.  We enjoyed mahi-mahi tacos that evening, with sour cream, cilantro, guacamole etc. (Are you seeing a pattern to our menu yet?)

On Sunday, April 30th, we said goodbye to Eleuthera and headed towards the Abacos, for the last part of our Bahamas adventure.  We set off at about 9am and headed out into bouncy seas, with 8 foot swells that had a short period.  Because of this the autopilot was hunting a lot so Moray hand steered for the 8 hour trip.  It wasn’t the most comfortable ride, but we sailed the whole way, which was wonderful.  We arrived at Lynyard Cay at around 6:30pm, and dropped anchor.  There were a couple of other boats there, but there was so much room, we were nice and secluded.  The original plan was to anchor there and dinghy over to visit Little Harbor, and Pete’s Pub and Gallery, as several other contributors to Active Captain had done.  We soon realized that they must have much more powerful outboards than us, as there was no way our dinghy would be able to get us there in comfort.  So we pulled up anchor and at high tide, made our way through the channel into Little Harbor, and for the first time since December 16th, did not anchor, but tied off to a mooring ball.  This is a nice little harbor, and Pete’s Pub and Gallery are great places to visit.  If you go there, you must try the Blaster – their signature drink!  There were several boats that had come down on a day trip from Hope Town, as well as several boats on moorings.  One we recognized from our time in Boot Key Harbor – Saltwater Taffy.

 

The next morning, Moray went up the mast to take pictures to show the Code 0 issue to Mack Sails, and to fix the anemometer, which had bent slightly.

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Sol Purpose and Debbie (the grinder) 55ft below

That done, he sent off an email to Mack Sails and we sat down to relax until high tide, so that we could get out of the harbor.  While we were waiting, Mike and Blanche from Saltwater Taffy came over to say hello.  It appeared their plans were similar to ours so we agreed to meet up the next day.  Just before high tide we set off, but for the second time, I managed to put us on the bottom, so back to the mooring ball for 20 minutes, by which time, there was enough water to get us through the channel.  Our plan was to head to Sandy Cay, drop anchor and take the dinghy to a mooring ball, so that we could dive the reef there.  As we were passing the cay, we could only see two mooring balls and the swells were very bad, so we decided to keep on going up to Tilloo Cay and anchor for the night.  Shortly afterward, Saltwater Taffy arrived, and we arranged to have lunch at Cracker P’s the next day.

We took our dinghies over to Cracker P’s and were looking forward to a great lunch, as the place had rave reviews.  Luckily the company was good, as the lunch was very disappointing.  Ah well… not everywhere can be perfect!  Anyway, after lunch, we took Sol Purpose back down to Sandy Cay, dropped anchor and dinghied round to the dive moorings.  That morning, the moorings had all been replaced, so we were the first to use the superb new mooring – no slime on the pennants etc. – it’s the little things!  We dropped on to the reef and were immediately enjoying a great dive.  I would have liked to have investigated the top of the reef a little more but the swells were bad, so we dropped down, where everything was calm.  75 minutes of swimming down the reef and back was amazing – good corals, lots of fish.  Once the dive was over, we headed back to Tilloo Cay to anchor another night.

Our plan on Thursday was to have a lazy morning and when the tide was right, head into Hope Town to pick up a mooring ball where we could ride out the next weather front.  While we were sitting in the cockpit, we saw Morning Glory pass by, on their way to Man O’War Cay.  At around 2pm, we pulled up the anchor and headed into Hope Town.  We weren’t able to raise the marina on the radio until we were inside the harbor, but eventually they came on and told us to pick up any red or blue mooring ball.  We were making our way round the harbor looking for an available red or blue ball, when they came back on the radio and told us to grab the yellow ball that was right in front of us.  We did so, and once secured sat down to look around.  This was the closest packed mooring field we had ever been in, but it looked as though there was just sufficient room.  It was then that we realized that the boat next to us was Providence!  We had met Bill in Little Farmers Cay and again in Georgetown, so were delighted to see him again.  Just as we arrived, he came back to his boat, so he swung by to say hello and let us know a bit about Hope Town.  He pointed out a pool area, where the cruisers gather every afternoon at around 4pm to chat, have a couple of drinks and play Mexican Train dominoes.  We had never played before, but thought it sounded like fun, so we went over there.  The game is a lot of fun, and fairly easy to learn.  It was a great afternoon!  Mike and Blanche from Saltwater Taffy came over to say hi, as they had also arrived in Hope Town that morning.  And later, while we were enjoying sundowners in the cockpit, Ted and Mili from Morning Glory dropped by.  They had been up to Man O’War Cay for the day and were now anchored outside the harbor.  They were going to see what the weather was like and come into the harbor the next morning if necessary.

The next morning, the guy we had spoken to from the marina came over.  It turned out that the yellow ball was his own, so he came to collect the payment.  As every ball in the harbor costs the same, it wasn’t an issue.  I just hoped that it was as well maintained as all the others!  It doesn’t seem to matter to the marina that people on other mooring balls use their pool, laundry and bars, so all was good!  Moray headed ashore to take care of the laundry, while I baked.  Unfortunately, the laundry driers didn’t work so well, so it was almost 4pm by the time he got back!  He wasn’t best pleased, so I made him a quick snack before we headed to the pool area to play Mexican Train.  The sky was looking a little ominous, so we took our foul weather jackets with us, much to the amusement of some of the others.  10 minutes into the game, the heavens opened!  We grabbed the dominoes and ran to the bar area, which was more covered than the pool area.  We put a couple of the restaurant tables together and carried on with the game.  The roof was leaking a little, so a couple of people were still getting a bit wet, but the game was fun nevertheless!

That evening, we were hoping to find some live music somewhere, and were told that Cap’n Jacks would have music and Cinco De Mayo specials.  We headed over there at around 6:30pm, only to find that the Cinco De Mayo specials ended at 6pm!  Oh well!  We ordered dinner and then headed into the bar area to wait for the music to start at 9pm.  It turned out that it wasn’t live music but a DJ.  We hung around there for a while, chatting to a couple, Doug and Tina, from another sailboat, Amazed, and watching a group of teenagers who were holidaying on a motor yacht, having their own Girls Gone Wild experience!

I spent Saturday morning planning a few alternatives for our journey back to Stuart, Florida.  It wasn’t the easiest task as for some reason our weather forecasting app was only predicting 2.5 days out, rather than the 5 it should have, but I got a few alternatives planned out, including getting three days of diving in.  After lunch, we headed in to Hope Town and took a stroll around the town.  The island is unlike any of the other islands we had seen up to this point.  The houses are all beautifully kept, with colourful gardens and well-kept lawns.

We walked down to the beach, and stopped at a beach bar for a piña colada, before heading back into town.  Although we had been told otherwise, Froggies the dive store was open, and could fill our dive tanks, so we headed back to Sol Purpose to pick them up.  As we were crossing the mooring field we spotted Mele Kai!  We stopped and knocked on the hull, and out came Jeanette and Walter – we haven’t seen them since we left Kemah!  We said hello and they invited us to their boat later that day.  We got the tanks taken care of and then headed off to play Mexican Train one last time, before heading over to Mele Kai.  Already there were Tim and June from Subject to Change, another Kemah boat!  We had a pleasant evening there, before heading out to see if we could join the lighthouse keeper as he lit the lamp.  The Elbow Reef lighthouse in Hope Town is the last which requires the kerosene mantle to be manually lit each evening.  The Fresnel lens rotation is managed by the keeper “winding” up a 700lb weight through the height of the tower, that when released, allows the lens to spin for 2 hours.  He has to repeat this work throughout the night.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t find anyone around and the lighthouse was locked so we headed back to Sol Purpose.

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another view of the lighthouse from the approach channel

On Sunday, we headed out from Hope Town at around 1pm.  For the third time in about a week, I managed to put us on the bottom, and by this time I was refusing to ever steer again!  But we got out of the harbor and picked our way out across the shallows into slightly deeper water, and then headed for Mermaid Reef.  As we approached, we saw that Saltwater Taffy was already there.  We anchored and headed over to the reef to snorkel.  As soon as we got in, the sergeant majors started towards us, hoping to be fed.  We just kept going and eventually they left us alone.  What a spectacular reef!  The corals themselves aren’t too exciting but the amount and variety of fish life was the best we had seen.  Among others we saw Midnight Parrotfish, a golden eel, a yellow stingray, porgy, and best of all, lots of lobster that delighted in tormenting Moray by walking around in the open, almost as if they know when it is closed season!  The strangest sight I have ever seen was a blue-tinged (egg guarding) sergeant major attacking a lobster that was presumably too close to the eggs.  He was constantly biting its antennae.

After about an hour, we headed back to Sol Purpose, took nice hot showers and headed over to Saltwater Taffy for dinner.  Blanche cooked a wonderful dinner of chicken, spinach and wild rice and we shared a lovely evening, talking about where we had all been in the Bahamas and our plans for the future.

The next day we headed over to Fowl Cay Reserve, dropped anchor and headed over to the reef in the dinghy.  We tied off to a dive mooring ball, and dropped in.  The fish life was not so spectacular as on Mermaid Reef, but the coral structures were incredible and we were escorted for pretty much an hour by a huge grouper, who Moray named Greg.  He followed us like a puppy, and even appeared to want his chin tickled!  After a great dive, we headed back to Sol Purpose and set off for Treasure Cay.  We anchored just behind Stephanie Dawn, a boat from Kemah, who was on a mooring ball.  We took the dinghy over, but found that Sandra was not on board, so we headed in to see if we could find the dive store that the resort advertises it has.  We found that the dive store is no longer in operation.  Disappointed, but not surprised, we went to the bar and had a beer before heading back to the boat.  As we passed by Stephanie Dawn, we saw that Sandra was now home, so we had a quick chat with her.  It’s disappointing that we weren’t able to really catch up with Sandra and Rick, but I’m sure we will do so next year.

On Tuesday, we refueled at the Treasure Cay fuel dock before heading out.  We had called ahead to Brendals dive store on Green Turtle Cay and confirmed that they could fill our scuba tanks.  They also reminded us that everything would be closed the following day as that was election day in the Bahamas.  With this in mind we quickly changed our plans.  We headed straight to Green Turtle Cay, and got the tanks filled.  Then we went straight down to No Name Cay, where we anchored and dinghied over to the reef.  This time there were no mooring balls, so we dropped the dinghy anchor in the sand and headed over the reef.  This dive was a lot shallower than the previous day, but just as pretty, with interesting coral structures and with quite a variety of sea life.  The only disappointing thing was the group of snorkelers all carrying pole spears, despite the fact that this is a reserve and fishing is banned.  Some people just don’t think the rules apply to them and it’s a shame.

As soon as the dive was over, we headed back to Green Turtle Cay so that we could get the tanks refilled before the store closed.  That taken care of, we headed into New Plymouth, as this would be the last town we would see in the Bahamas – this trip!  We took a walk around town in the afternoon.

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only in the Bahamas…

We found a court setup for some type of game/sport but had no idea what the markings represented.  If anyone knows, please inform us…

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what game are these markings for?

Moray had read about an amazing Chinese restaurant/food truck and was craving Chinese food.  We eventually found the place, but it was closed 😦 as were the next couple of places we tried 😦 .  Eventually, we were directed to a restaurant/bakery, where the food was delicious.  Moray even had a rum & raisin, home-made ice cream 🙂 .  On our way back to Sol Purpose, we stopped to say goodbye to Saltwater Taffy, who had just arrived.  They were planning to stay a couple of nights before heading to Great Sale Cay, then West End, and then make the crossing over to Fort Pierce on Saturday.  Our plans were a little different, so we wished them safe travels and headed back to our boat.

The next morning, we headed over to Manjack Cay, and anchored in the Nunjack Channel, before taking the dinghy over to the reef.  Again, there were no mooring balls around, so we dropped the anchor and started our dive.  The site is called the Catacombs and was absolutely the most spectacular dive of the trip.  It’s always good to save the best for last!  The coral structures were fabulous, with lots of swim-throughs and light cascading down through the coral on to the sand below.  There were several different types of coral and plants, and lots of fish.  Almost as soon as we descended, we saw a nurse shark, half way through we saw a huge Southern Stingray burying itself in the sandy bottom and the dive was rounded off by us being escorted along the reef by a blacktip reef shark.  He checked us out once or twice and then must have decided we were dull, as he headed out away from the reef!  It’s not particularly deep, and we were able to take our time going out and back along the reef.  In all, we spent 80 minutes under the water.  What a great way to end our Bahamas trip!

Back on board, we set off for Fox Town, where we would be anchoring for the night.  Shortly after we arrived, another boat came in a dropped anchor – right next to us!  I guess the snuggle syndrome was in full effect!

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Sunset in Fox Town

The next day was just a run over to Mangrove Cay to stage our crossing back to the USA.  We motored all the way, so were able to run the water maker to fill the tank.  When we arrived, there was only one other boat there, but by sunset, several boats had arrived.  I’m not sure if they had all just arrived in the Bahamas or like us, were headed back to the States.

Friday morning was May 12th, exactly one year since we had left Kemah for the last time!  The plan was to leave at around 4am, when the winds would be westerly but not very strong, head west toward Memory Rock, then turn northwest and use the predicted southerly wind and gulfstream to get us to Fort Pierce just before sunset.  The best laid plans…..  First of all, when the alarm went off at 3:30am, the winds were howling.  We had coffee while we decided what to do.  I picked up my watch and realized that it wasn’t 4am, it was only 2am!  When the SIM card in the phone had been switched out, something had messed up the time!  By now, we weren’t able to go back to sleep, and the wind was too strong to try to get out of the anchorage.  So we watched a TV show until 4am!  By then, the winds had dropped, although they were still westerly.  We had a bright almost full moon, so we slowly picked our way out of the anchorage and set off.  Once we got out of the protection of the island, the seas were very lumpy and we were at times only travelling at 2.5 knots, with a projected arrival time of the next morning.  When we sped up, our projected arrival was in the middle of the night.  Now I hate arriving anywhere after dark, more so if it is somewhere new and even more so, if we are anchoring.  I tried to swallow my fears and just deal with the situation.  We decided to head a little further west than we had originally planned and then make a sharper turn northward to make use of the southerly winds, when they arrived.  At 1:30pm, the winds changed and we were able to get out the sails.  We also were now in the gulf stream, and suddenly we were racing along at 9 or 10 knots!  It was amazing!  Such a lovely day of sailing and our projected arrival got earlier and earlier.  Just as the sun was setting, we entered the Fort Pierce inlet, heaving a sigh of relief that we would be able to get the anchor down just before it got dark, and relax.  But that wasn’t on the cards just yet.  We were heading along the inlet, almost at the anchorage, when the coastguard pulled alongside us, and asked where we were coming from.  We told them, and when asked, said we were heading to the anchorage just ahead.  So now I had to anchor, in growing darkness, with a coastguard boat right next to me!  As soon as the anchor was set, they came on board, checked our paperwork, checked our life-jackets, fire extinguishers, through hulls and life ring.  They even checked that we had a bell on board, which thankfully, we do.  They were great guys, and even gave us tips about which restaurants and bars to go to!  Not what I had wanted to happen that evening, but not a bad experience at all!

On Saturday morning, Moray went ashore to call Customs.  Our phone wasn’t working with the AT&T SIM card, so he needed to get to somewhere with an internet connection and use Skype to make the call.  That went fairly painlessly, so then he came back and picked me up, so we could head to the airport to clear immigration.  We got an Uber, and in no time were at the airport.  The driver waited for us for the 15 minutes or so it took to clear immigration, and then brought us back to the City Marina.  We took a look around the Farmers Market, before heading to the Tiki Bar for a celebratory beer.  We ordered the local wheat beer, Sailfish White Marlin, which was delicious.  As we were drinking, a guy arrived and sat down next to us.  He asked what we were drinking.  When we told him, he told the server that the next round was on him.  It turned out that he was the manager of the Sailfish Brewery!  We chatted with him for a while and then headed back to Sol Purpose.  We sat in the cockpit watching the party boats coming and going from the island, as well as the fishing boats stopping to gather their bait.  Just as the party boats were just about gone, we heard over the radio a conversation between Tow Boat US and Saltwater Taffy.  It appeared that Saltwater Taffy was almost in the inlet but had had engine trouble.  We contacted Mike to let them know where we were anchored and that there was plenty of room for them too.  Their engine was fixed at that point, so Tow Boat US guided them in and they dropped anchor just next to us.  They had had a long day, most of it under sail, but had an engine problem when they started the motor to come into the inlet.  Mike had had to replace the raw water impeller which he had just replaced the week before.  We told them that we would be leaving for Stuart the next morning, but chatted for a while, before saying goodbye, again!

We departed the anchorage and Fort Pierce at around 8am on Sunday, waving goodbye to the Coastguard guys as we passed their boat!  We made our way down the ICW, timing our arrival at the St Lucie inlet for high tide, so that we would be able to get into Manatee Pocket.  We stopped at the Mariners Cay Marina fuel dock, before heading to Hidden Harbor Estates.  Bill, our friend on Providence, had put us in contact with the dock master here and we have been able to get a slip in the private marina associated with the community he lived in.  It’s great because it is just down the road from Mack Sails, which is the reason we have come here.  It is also close to the Twisted Tuna, where we went to eat some delicious sushi before settling down for the evening with air conditioning for the first time in over 5 months!

Mack Sails will be coming tomorrow, so hopefully we will soon be headed north to New Bern.

 

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