Once we made the decision to head back to the U.S., we had to get the boat ready for a passage. The forecast showed excellent conditions for sailing most of the way which was good because we wanted to make the trip non-stop from Lee Stocking, and we didn’t have enough diesel to motor the whole way. Some of the marinas in the Bahamas were closing so access to fuel wasn’t guaranteed.
Being able to use the white floppy things on our boat is always our first choice, and now we were REALLY glad we had them vs. owning a motor boat and being dependent on fuel. An added bonus was that our weather window was several days longer than what we needed, giving us added flexibility to creep along under sail if the wind was lighter than forecast. We really couldn’t have asked for a better situation, giving us the additional confidence that we were making the right decision.
The wind had been blowing 20+ knots for several days (a theme for our stay this year), so we wanted to stay on the bank side of the Exumas. We were going to need some help from the tides to pull that off because heading north on the banks from Lee Stocking requires boats to go through the Pimlicos, which is shallower than what our boat draws. Fortunately a quick check of the tide tables showed they were in our favor, sparing us from very boisterous conditions on the Sound side. With everything stowed and the jacklines installed, we set the alarm to leave at sunrise on Saturday.
There are some people who return to the Exumas year after year. It’s not surprising given how beautiful it is, but last year part of me wondered if they didn’t get a little tired of revisiting the same cays. Now that we are repeating some of the same spots ourselves, I can see why they do it. We’ve discovered that simply by anchoring in a different area in the same cay it can be like going to an entirely new island.
This really became clear when we finally arrived at Lee Stocking. After two aborted attempts to get south of Staniel Cay (a steady 18 knots+ dead on the nose with accompanying chop had us turning back – no need to beat up ourselves or the boat if it’s not necessary), the third time was a charm on a windless day. Yes, we would have preferred to sail, but at this point we were beggars who weren’t going to be choosers.
The water in the Exumas is unquestionably gorgeous, and it feels like you could spend months here in a different anchorage each night. But one thing it lacks is an abundance of anchorages with good all-around protection from the wind. As a result, you will generally find yourself sharing one of the decent anchorages with a bunch of other boats. Not a big deal if nobody drags, but as we witnessed in Norman’s Cay, you can’t necessarily count on that. So with those events fresh on on our mind and another front coming in, we decided to head to Pipe Cay.
Pipe Cay was one of our favorite anchorages last year. A quick five mile hop from Staniel Cay, we decided to head over there just before high tide to see if we could sneak into the back on the northwest side of Little Pipe Cay. Last year we had seen one boat anchored there, and it looked skinny but doable on the charts.
It was a cloudy and windy morning and we were keeping an eye on a big squall heading our way as we motored over. Fortunately it dissipated before arriving, but by the time we were entering the Pipe Cay channel I was out of sorts.
We do seem to be in the midst of a streak of adventure. Hopefully it’s almost over and I can go back to more boring posts (we swam, we snorkeled, repeat) complete with pretty pictures.
The cold front had finally passed and we decided it was time to get out of Norman’s Cay and move to one of our favorite anchorages last year, Pipe Cay. We were down to slightly over a half tank of diesel and our reserve tank of water, so it was time to make tracks down to Staniel Cay where we could replenish both. The plan was to stay in Pipe Cay for a few days, wait out a mild front with westerly winds, move to Staniel, and then backtrack north and spend some time in the Land and Sea Park. Well you know what they say about plans.
Last year in the Bahamas we loved the Abacos for the settlements and the Exumas for the water. Our plan when we left in May was to repeat the trip, beginning with the Abacos and continuing to the Exumas via Eleuthera and perhaps the Berry Islands. Then Dorian happened.
After debating whether to go to the Bahamas at all, we decided this time we would leave from Miami and get to the Exumas via Bimini. While the Abacos are making progress recovering, we weren’t sure we were quite self-sufficient enough vis a vis water capacity if we were to be pinned there for awhile due to weather. It seemed like a good decision at the time, but by the time we landed in West Bay on New Providence we agreed any future trips to the Bahamas from the U.S. will be via the Abacos.
When we crossed the Gulf Stream we knew we would be in Bimini for a week based on the weather forecast. While it was a great relief to finally have the Gulf Stream crossing out of the way, and while it was wonderful to see that beautiful water again (I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I laid eyes on it), we did not feel the love for Bimini.
All of the marinas except one are in North Bimini, but Bimini Sands Marina in South Bimini offered the best protection from the forecasted 25-30 knot winds so it was a no brainer to stay there. The fact that they were offering a special of $150/week made it even better. I wasn’t sure if we would regret it given how quiet South Bimini is, but it actually ended up being the best part of our stay.
When we first heard that Dorian had struck the Bahamas we were on our passage down the Jersey coast. My Uncle Ken messaged me, but we didn’t have great internet service at the time so we weren’t fully aware of the magnitude of what was happening. We were shocked, and I was in tears, when we saw the pictures the next day. Even though we had only spent about six weeks in the Abacos last winter, we were enchanted by its beauty and friendly residents.
We’ve been talking over the past few months about wanting to get a bit more connected with a community by staying in one spot for a while – in the states and in the Bahamas – and we had decided to spend at least a few weeks on a mooring in Hope Town this winter. As of now it looks like that plan will have to be put on hold.
But what about the rest of the Bahamas? Most people watching the news probably think that “the Bahamas” are devastated. We would have thought the same thing before going there last winter, but we knew that Dorian spared the vast majority of the islands. Nevertheless, we debated whether we should go to the Bahamas at all this winter. To me it sort of felt like vacationing in San Diego if Los Angeles was lying in ruins from a cataclysmic earthquake. Jeff pointed out that our tourism dollars are now more important than ever (even if they do represent a tiny drop in the bucket), and as the days have passed various Bahamian organizations have been delivering that same message.
We spent several days waiting out a weather system at our hidey hole by Green Turtle Cay before moving to Great Sale Cay where we would leave for our crossing back to the U.S. We have spent approximately one week in this Green Turtle anchorage during our time in the Bahamas, and we really do love it. We have had it to ourselves every time except for one night, and the protection is superb. Turtles and rays come by every day and we discovered some nice snorkeling on this last stop. However, it was time to go so we sadly waved goodbye until next time.
After many discussions over the past few months, Jeff and I agreed that we were ready to try a multi-night passage.Up to now we had only done two single overnights.We had the awful one down the New Jersey coast, and we had a mostly wind-free 20 hours when we crossed from Lake Worth to Great Sale Cay in early February.We had gained a lot of confidence while sailing in all kinds of conditions in the Bahamas, so it was time to push our comfort zone a bit more.
We set up custom weather routing with Chris Parker who is well-known among cruisers for his forecasting.Although we wouldn’t have cell service off shore and we only have an SSB receiver, he would be able to send detailed forecasts through our inReach device.When a good weather window opened up, it was time to go.
Our hope was to go from Great Sale Cay to Georgetown, SC or even Beaufort, NC if the stars aligned, but we agreed that we wouldn’t hesitate to bail out early if we wanted to.That proved to be a very good plan.
We left Great Sale on Sunday at 7:00 a.m. and had good wind for sailing all day.The wind angle was a bit different than forecasted so right away we weren’t going to be able to aim for one of Chris’ suggested waypoints, but we kept chugging along with Bob (our Monitor windvane) steering like a champ.
Spanish Wells in Eleuthera was a charming stop, and a place where we would like to spend more time next season. It had an abundance of colorful, cute houses which reminded us of a larger version of Hopetown, and there was an amazing shallow beach that seemed to stretch out forever at low tide. Spanish Wells also had a large grocery store where we were able to stock up on more snacks. Note to self: bring more snacks next time!
Any place after Pipe Cay was going to pale in comparison, but we still enjoyed our stop in the Exumas Land and Sea Park. We spent a night anchored at Warderick Wells before moving on to Shroud Cay. Everyone we spoke to who offered suggestions for Exumas stops said that we MUST see Shroud Cay, so how could we skip it?
We spent two nights in a very lovely anchorage where we were able to snorkle a few coral reefs (we saw lots of fish) and we also took our dinghy up the mangrove creek to the ocean side which was a lot of fun.
We didn’t have any fish-sighting success while snorkeling in the creek, but we did see a shark swimming in the shallows on the ocean side and a turtle in the creek as we slowly motored along. The Land and Sea Park has so many snorkeling spots that we didn’t get to see, but the pesky calendar won’t slow down. We’ll definitely come back next season, but for now we needed to take advantage of good weather to cross back to Eleuthera and keep heading north. Continue reading “Farewell to the Exumas as we begin to head north in earnest.”→
A short sail away from Staniel Cay was Pipe Creek, an absolutely stunning spot which is now my favorite place in the Exumas. As far as beauty goes, it is the prettiest place we’ve seen so far, and that’s saying something.
Pipe Creek runs between Pipe Cay and Little Pipe Cay, and at low tide the vast majority of the water is gone, leaving sand flats everywhere. The water ranged from dark blue to turquoise, electric blue to clear.
We spent several days here, simply not wanting to leave. We watched kiteboarders (who love the shallow spots), a seaplane landed in front of us, and every time the tide went out we took the dinghy and played in the water, floating in the shallow areas, drifting along, and walking around the sand flats.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let these pictures (which honestly don’t do it justice) do the talking: