My last post was from Rock Sound Eleuthera on the Friday the 18th. We really enjoyed our visit while there. The guidebook we have for the Bahamas really made Eleuthera sound not all that inviting, but if asked I would tell anyone to make sure to spend some time enjoying this area.
Before Sailing to the Bahamas, I often heard people talk of the Abacos, Eleuthera, and the Exumas. It all sounded the same to me. After all, it was all the Bahamian islands, what difference could there be? Now that I have been to all these regions, I can tell you there is a huge difference between them. North Abaco was a wonderful place, and where we spent the most time. Easy sailing between great little towns, and a very small town kinda feel; touristy, but in a good sort way. Eleuthera is totally different. Not at all centered around the tourist, you get a feel of the real Bahamas there. The people we met there were absolutely the friendliest. The Exumas is beautiful, but only in a “don’t touch” sort of way. Most of the Cays are private, and there is an exclusiveness that pervades the place. The people of the Bahamas have had their Exuman land stolen from them by their own government and sold to the rich. One day I hope to see the people of the Bahamas force the repatriation of their land back to the rightful owners, the people of the Bahamas.
On Saturday morning we left early because we had a fair amount of sailing to do. To get to the next area of the Bahamas, we needed to leave Eleuthera and sail to the Exumas. To do that we needed to round the southern cape of Eleuthera, and enter into the deep water of the Exuma Sound. We were unable to easily get water and fuel in Rock Sound so we planned to stop at the Eleuthera Marina on the cape for water and gas. We arrived at the marina around 11:00 and were fueled up and back out into the ocean in an hour. The Eleuthera Marina is one of those places in the Bahamas that was not a favorite. It is beautiful in a McDonalds sanitized sort of way, but not Bahamian in any way at all. You can stay there if you can afford the $2.50 a foot for your boat, not including electric or water. There is no “Bahamas” there because it has all been washed away to make it more comfortable for the very few that can afford to visit. Nice place to get gas, just like a new service station on a highway, but no place to visit.
We were feeling good. It was just noon and we had another 40+ NM to go but the weather was good, the sails were filled with air, and we were leaving one area of the Bahamas to visit one we had not seen yet. It’s times like these when the stuff really hits the fan. I had just set our autopilot for a course to Allan’s Cay and gone below. I had asked Carol to keep watch. At some point Carol disengaged the autopilot to trim the sails, and then she started to call me. We had all sail up and were moving over 6KTS and Carol could only steer the boat in one direction. We had gone from A-OK to pending disaster. I took the helm from Carol and started to realize the autopilot had broken and was jamming the wheel. For a few minutes we were scrambling. I knew that we could get in real trouble if we could not steer, but the boat was doing fine and we managed to disassemble the device and regain control before anything bad happened. For a few minutes I started to think about going back to the Eleuthera marina, but not wanting to give the rest of my fortune to the McDonalds of the marina world, we decided to keep going. Now an autopilot is a wonderful thing, but it is not absolutely necessary, at least for our trip. It just meant that now someone HAD to be steering the boat. We reached Allan’s about five hours later with little fanfare.
Allan’s Cay was something very new for us. Until now, we had always picked anchorages for their tranquility. Now in the Exumas we were faced with many anchorages with strong current during the tidal flow. We no longer could anchor in quiet waters, but now had to anchor in what amounted to fast moving rivers. Did I mention that the “river” changes direction every 6 hours. Well, we anchored in Allan’s, and then we set an additional anchor using our dinghy set at 180 from the first. When the river changed direction, the boat just shifted around and all was well. We stayed in Allan’s for a few days with our friends Dogonit. The last full day there a large cat came into the anchorage and anchored between Dogonit and us. We noticed they only dropped one anchor but we hoped for the best. That evening, Carol and I were retiring quite late after reading late in bed and Carol said “I hear an engine starting.” I knew that at this hour the only reason to start your motor would be for life and death reasons. We climbed out of our hull to see the big cat desperately trying to put down a good hook. At one point they appeared to hit Dogonit (they did catch their chain). Finally they got their hook up and started to look for a better spot. I got on the radio and was able to point out an ideal place, to which they motored and then anchored successfully.
After a few days at Allan’s, we left Monday the 21st to head to Normans Cay. The sail was much easier than pulling up both anchors at Allan’s. Norman’s is notable due to it being a major cocaine trafficking site in the 70′s. There are dozens of abandoned crumbling buildings and even a crashed airplane there to explore. We also got to meet the people on the “big cat” too. Steve, Holly, and their two kids, Reese and Gwen, on Independencia. Dogonit was there too, and we enjoyed a few days of eating and drinking together until late into the evenings. My fondest experiences I have had here have come from just hanging out with the cruisers we have met. That night I sat on the bow of the big cat and was awed by the entire picture. A dozen or so people of all ages enjoying the food and drink in a stunningly beautiful and safe place. Nobody had a care other than to just relax and socialize.
We left Norman’s on Thursday around 11:00. I had gotten better at the “Bahamian” style of anchoring (two opposing hooks) but was not looking forward to the trip. It appeared that we would once again slog to win-ward and with the 15+ kts of wind I was a bit worried. Once out in the sound we put up all sail and found we could sail a course to Warderick Wells. We sailed for much of the afternoon very close to the wind making an easy 5 or 6 knots, and even hitting 7 or more during the gusts. It was a wonderful sail and not the slog I expected. Entering Warderick was a bit stressful due to the tidal changes. We entered at full tide and had the engine roaring just to make it into the anchorage. You get a bit nervous when there are boat thrashing coral heads all around you with very fast moving water, and your’re near the limits of your boats power range. After a few tense moments, we were inside and Carol grabbed the mooring ball like the champ that she is.
Warderick Wells is a magic place. The Bahaman government has made this area and the Cay’s surrounding it a national animal and marine sanctuary. We have yet to explore it much but what we have seen is amazing. Last night I noticed huge fish swimming in the stream just under our boat. While I was looking I saw a 5 foot shark swim right under me a few feet away and then start stalking the fish. Later we saw florescent green glowing jelly fish floating by, there were hundreds over an hour or so.
Today everyone is starting very slowly. It is hot here, as it has been for weeks. We’ll explore the park today and take some pictures. We have not had Interent access for some time, but we do now so I’ll be able to catch up a bit. Pictures to come soon!
Thanks to all of you who post questions, or comments. We really love to hear from all of you even if it takes us a few days or more to reply. We are really enjoying ourselves here, but our friends in Sandpoint are always on our minds. We wish you were here with us. I’d offer you a cool one and some shade if we could!