Monday, May 30, 2011

Cruising In Abaco

The string of islands in the Northern Bahamas are called Abaco. They run Northwest to Southeast with the Atlantic Ocean to the East and Florida to West on the Little Bahama Bank.  Both the Spanish and the French attempted colonies in Abaco but both decided that other areas of the New World were more interesting. The British colonized Eleuthera and New Providence Island (Nassau) but no permanent settlements were attempted in the Abacos. The cays ("keys") and reefs of the Abacos made a natural home to pirates preying on ships bringing treasures from the New World back to the Old. In the 1770s English loyalists fled the patriots who were declaring their independence from England. Some chose to settle in Abaco.  Records show that nearly 2000 loyalists arrived on Grand Bahama with their slaves and belongings expecting to farm. They were sorely disappointed to fine such thin soil and most left. Eventually their numbers diminished to about 400 but they left their mark.
Bahamas or Williamsburg???
All through the Abacos the little towns look like miniature New England villages. Eventually they were joined by migrants from the southern Bahamas, Cuba, Florida and other Spanish settlements. The people of Abaco had to be self-sufficient, the only supply ship traveled to Nassau and back once a year! They built a life around fishing, sponging, wrecking and farming.  They established New Plymouth Town on Green Turtle Cay and it remained the government seat into the 19th Century. To this day no one gets really rich but no one starves, I heard there is 0 unemployment in Abaco.

Approaching New Plymouth
We sailed along the the reef stopping in quiet secluded cays where we snorkeled, tried to fish and watched sunsets then we headed for some of the more populated cays.

Goal in New Plymouth

New Plymouth Town on Green Turtle Cay was the first we came to, a haven for sport fisherman - population of about 450. There are two mooring fields, White Sound and Black Sound. White Sound has the large sport fishing boats and the Yacht Club, Black Sound is home to New Plymouth Town, and our mooring ball. New Plymouth is the sister city to Key West, settled by descendents of some of the same families. We particularly enjoyed the two bars, Pineapples and Sundowners, loved their happy hours and regulars.
After leaving Green Turtle it was time to brave the Whale Cut and sail to Great Guana Cay in the southern Abacos. Only shoal draft boats can stay in the Sea of Abaco. Every one else has to go through a deep cut in the reef around Whale Cay out into the Atlantic. Slow moving boats, like sailboats, have to be careful. Even on nice days tidal currents running opposite the wind and waves, created way out in the Atlantic, can cause a condition called a Rage. No problem for us though, just a beautiful day of sailing in the Bahamas.

Just like Walter said, Gumbo Limbo grows next to the Poisonwood Tree


Great Rocks on the Atlantic below Nippers
Great Guana is even smaller then Green Turtle with about 200 people. But, it has the most popular bar in the Abacos. Nippers, perched on a bluff overlooks the Atlantic and the longest beach in the Bahamas. Its what you envision when you think Bahamas. The reef comes close to shore and the views are spectacular. Plus, Great Guana has Milo, an old character who sells everything from T shirts to conch from his little yellow shop.
Steps at Nippers lead down to this beach and the Atlantic Ocean
 (Patty and Armand - this is the spot we've been looking for. Armand can play piano, I'll help Milo grow tomatoes, Patty can handle the PR and Roy can find lots of stuff to fix. We'll all swell Great Guana's population.)

Man O War harbor's entrance, pretty tight  
And so are the harbor moorings
After a couple of days at Great Guana we needed some engine parts so we headed to Man O War Cay, population 300, and all of them named Albury - or so it seemed.  This cay is noted for its boat building and lack of alcoholic beverages. Man O War was settled by one young couple whose religious beliefs against alcohol are still seen on the Cay today. Several of the local boat builders still make the occasional "Abaco" Dingy boats in their native woods of Madeira mahogany and other Bahamian hardwoods. They are considered works of art and sought after by those who appreciate fine old world wooden vessels. We bought belts and engine parts.

Not only is the boat a work of art but check out the little ways its on!!

From Man O War we sailed 7 miles to Hopetown, definitely the prettiest of the towns. Hopetown has the candystripe lighthouse that everyone associates with the Bahamas.

It still uses a kerosene and a Fresnel Lens to send its light out and warn sailors of the dangerous reefs. We wanted to spend a little more time here but were getting uneasy with the weather reports about the passage south to Eleuthera.

Lighthouse keeper lighting the Fresnel Lens
Queen's Highway, Hopetown
That Breadfruit tree
Which Bounty voyage?

 So on Friday we headed south to Little Harbor and on Saturday we sailed out into the Atlantic for our 60 mile passage south.  Saturday evening we arrived safely in the northern part of the Eleuthera chain. We first dropped anchor in the all weather anchorage on Royal Island and had a lazy swim before watching the sunset.
 The Atlantic crossing and its deep blue water. Later the storm
on the horizon passed us by.

Monday we sail over to Spanish Wells and start enjoying the next phase of the trip as we wait for Mary to join us on Wednesday.
By the way we're on skype now - so all you who have computers with cameras can talk AND see.  dale.royross
Always stop for sunset

Sunday, May 22, 2011

In Abacos

Roy crossing the Stream
The depth finder in the Gulf Stream
Its wonderful, beautiful, just the way we remember it! The Gulf Stream crossing on Wednesday the 18th of May, was uneventful the way we like that. Left our anchorage about 4:45am and were tying up ready to greet Customs by 3:30pm.

Our first stop was West End in the Abacos which is the northern Bahamas. We stayed here coming and going in 2009; very convenient as Customs is right next to the marina office and fuel dock. Plus you never know who you'll meet. This time we tied up next to the sister ship of the boat in the movie "Captain Ron." That same evening a Bahamian boat came by selling conch, lobster and a few stone crab claws. Been feasting ever since.
Andrew at West End bar

Cleaning Conch
The next afternoon we headed out to start our visit of the many cays and towns of Abaco - first stop is just an anchorage, no shore time, at Great Sale Cay.

But then the next day, wow! We anchored off of Moraine Cay right on the edge of the reef. Feels  like you're on the edge of civilization. Andrew got his first taste of swimming in the Atlantic in a cove there. Roy & I outfitted him with snorkel, mask and fins and we all paddled around in 3 - 5 ft of water. There was a rock jetty with lovely colorful fish and, best of all, a seabed of grass with many conch. Believing you can't have too many conch, we dove for a few of the bigger ones. The next morning Roy & I took the dingy to the reef and joined another couple who were snorkeling there. It was one of the best reefs we've seen since our last stop here. Beautiful coral walls dropping away to a sandy sea bottom and lots of different fish. The waters are definitely gin clear. Some times Bombey and other times more like Tanquery.

I think you can click these and make them bigger.

             The snorkeling is magnificent. We now have an underwater camera. What fun!!

We're visiting New Plymouth Town on Green Turtle Cay today - looking for a grocery, laundry and bar. Not necessarily in that order.

Now its time for the toast
and it Was the good stuff!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Key West to Fort Lauderdale

Well y'all, we finally left Key West (always by the hardest) for the trip up the Keys to Fort Lauderdale. With only Roy & I aboard we opted for a fast passage through the Keys to get us there. That would give us plenty of time to tend to boat stuff and handle provisioning for the 6 weeks in the Bahamas.

Boot Key Harbor - Mooring Field
Not much wind so we motored to our first stop at Boot Key Harbor in Marathon. Boot Key is the Key that's at the northern end of the 7 mile bridge. The harbor there is wonderful. Nearly land locked so total protection from all winds. Plus, as its one of the few perfect harbors in the Keys all boats use it as a stop-over, some never leave, and it has everything a cruiser needs. Its filled with marinas, shipyards, a West Marine, all sorts of mechanics plus the real important stuff like bars and restaurants. I understand that in the old days (60s-80s) it was filled with derelict boats and modern day outlaws - no one had a last name. A veritable pirate hole. Now, there's a wonderful mooring field run by the city of Marathon and you meet folks you've seen along your journey like Matthew and Julie in their Island Trader who will eventually head to Haiti with relief supplies. We'd seen them several times coming down the West Coast of Florida and were happy to visit more with them in Boot Key Harbor.

The New Out Board goes on the dingy
However, our overnight stop turned into a 3 day event as it finally became evident that we'd need to buy a new outboard motor, yikes!!! We'd been having trouble, the thing was older then dirt. Roy was doing everything to try and keep it alive but it had given problems in too many places where it could have spelled serious trouble - like the dingy dive in the Dry Tortugas. So we decided it had to go. Roy got a great deal on a new 15hp Yamaha but still we watched with mixed feelings as the money changed hands. However, the instant start and steady drone, bringing peace of mind, has been its own reward. A dingy is your family car while out cruising.

Swinging at anchor
Stone Crab Supper, Yumm!
Our next stop was to be Key Largo and the great snorkel spots in the John Pennecamp State Park. We anchored off of Rodriguez Key, ate stone crabs we'd bought in Marathon, had a lovely night and realized we'd better put off the snorkeling until our way back. Time was running out to get to Lauderdale.

So the next night we made it all the way to No Name Harbor at the southern end of Key Biscayne, another well protected anchorage in a state park. No Name Harbor is used by cruisers waiting for weather windows to cross over to Bimimi. Its only about 45nm and will be our return run out of the Bahamas later on.

Miami in the haze of the Everglades fires - drought here in Fl

No Name Harbor - Miami in the background
Now we're in Fort Lauderdale and once again the number and size of the mega yachts is mind boggling. We've mostly been on a mooring ball at Los Olas Marina which works out great and the $30 a night instead of $160 at the marina dock is good for the pocket book. We've increased our inventory of spare parts and brought on extra provisions readying us and Wahoo for the next adventure.

We checked at Bahia Mar as we're moored near by - no sign of the Busted Flush. Found F dock but no slip 18. I just know he's here somewhere.
F dock today

The beach at Fort Lauderdale is beautiful even though its now highly commercialized - perhaps Travis and Meyer decided to head on out.

Andrew has arrived but, unfortunately, Austin has gotten sick so he and Annie won't be making the trip.

Hopefully, the weather report still looks good for tomorrow morning when we do our last check tonight. If so, its across the Gulf Stream and next stop West End, Abacos!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Key West and the Dry Tortugas

Sunset from Wahoo - Key West Anchorage
Funny how time slips away. We've been swinging nicely on the hook near Key West Bight Harbor for  2 weeks except for the challenging 4 day sailing trip to the Dry Tortugas with Dave and Angela. When we arrived on April 20 we knew that we had to get us and the boat prepped for the trip. Even the guide book says that if you aren't willing to prepare correctly for the trip to the Tortugas - don't go! So there was the normal and abnormal stuff to fix - the aft head decided to need a new pump etc.

Sec Gen of the Conch Republic with us at Louie's
But first we had friends to see, bikes to get and sunsets to watch. Especially at Louie's Backyard - a wonderful restaurant and bar looking toward the Atlantic where Dink Bruce and friends gather for sunset each evening.

It was also the 29th Independence Day Celebration of the Conch Republic.

"As the world's first fifth world nation, a sovereign state of mind seeking only to bring more humor, warmth and respect to a world in sore need of all three, the Conch Republic remains the country who seceded where others failed."
Sir Peter Anderson, Secretary General of the Conch Republic

 The Conch Republic was established after the Florida Keys seceded from the USA in response to the roadblock set up on US 1 in April of 1982. The roadblock forced all cars coming from the keys onto the mainland of Florida to stop and the occupants prove citizenship. To read a more complete history click here:

Drag Queen Races
The Officials
Wreckers Race to the Reef and Wahoo went along for the fun.
It was a great week to be in Key West. Drag Queen Race and Pirates; a Wreckers Race to the Reef, a Conch crawl down Duval Street and a sea battle in the harbor. It was a Key West Mardi Gras.

And of course, Pirates!

Dave just hoisted the mainsail
It also fit neatly into the fact that we had to wait until Tuesday for the weather to be right for the sail to the Tortugas. The Dry Tortugas are made up of several islands and get their name from the green turtles once so plentiful there and the lack of any fresh water. They are the western most of the Florida Keys and are pretty much out of touch with everything. We left before dawn and saw Fort Jefferson rising on the horizon about 2pm.
Cuban Chug  - imagine that ride for 90 miles!
Lighthouse Loggerhead Key
Us swimming on Loggerhead Key
The clear azure water contrasts with the red bricks of the fort to make a striking picture. We joined 3 other boats at the anchorage in front of the fort. The anchorage is surrounded by small islands which are now bird sanctuaries. One day we sailed over to Loggerhead Key, where the door to the lighthouse has a sign (in Spanish) saying that if you have reached here and are standing up just wait - the USGC will be along soon to take you in.

While there we saw 2 Cuban Chugs, the home made boats that Cubans use to make there way across the 90 miles separating them from freedom.

Fort Jefferson

Inside - gun Casements go On and On

Wahoo from the top of the Fort

Once back in Key West Angela and Dave left and Nancy Lozano arrived for another round of Conch Republic fun. Now everyone has gone and we are waiting on a part for the dingy motor. Come Friday, maybe Saturday, we set sail up the keys to Fort Lauderdale which will be the start of our Bahamian adventure.

Can't Ever see too Many Sunsets