Last year we were stuck in George Town and Red Shanks for close to a month as we waited out cold front after cold front. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with George Town and Red Shanks per se. It’s just that it’s not for us. So what did we do this year? The strongest front of the winter was coming, we were 25 nautical miles away in Lee Stocking, and we let the siren calls of the most well-stocked grocery stores in the Exumas suck us back in.
We had to settle for a motor sail from Rock Sound, but it was well worth it because after an uneventful day (except for the joy of the dolphins that followed along beside us for ten minutes – they never get old!) we were dropping the anchor in one of our favorite spots: Pipe Cay. A small blow was predicted so the next day we followed our track from last year’s adventure and slid into our hands-down favorite hidey hole in the back of Pipe. Although we still play the tides, it’s MUCH less stressful being able to follow last year’s track on the chart plotter.
After the blow we moved over to Staniel Cay (another favorite spot), then proceeded to spend the next week and a half moving between Staniel and Pipe as the weather dictated. We found a great spot to snorkel in Pipe and alternated between exploring and loafing around until we saw a nice stretch of weather to continue farther south.
Weather can be so cool. This picture was off the starboard side of the boat at Staniel one morning:
And this was the view off the port side of the boat:
A stop in Little Bay was next, along with a hike to the blow hole (which I find very entertaining) in Black Point:
Thar she blows!
We then moved on to Lee Stocking where we snorkeled among plenty of fish and several rays, including one that was literally at least three feet across.
We absolutely love Lee Stocking. The water is so clear, and between the swimming, snorkeling, and hiking, we could easily spend weeks there (something we hope to do on our way north now that we have a water maker).
Unfortunately after several days a look at the weather for the upcoming week made it clear to us that it was time to skedaddle. After debating whether to head north back up to Pipe or south to Red Shanks, the desire to get more food at a well-stocked and reasonably priced (for the Bahamas) grocery store tipped the scales, so we pointed the bow towards Red Shanks near George Town.
We spent almost a week and a half in Rock Sound before moving on to the Exumas. We like Rock Sound quite a bit. There are some things to see, it’s a very good place to stock up on groceries and supplies, and the anchorage is great – excellent holding, plenty of room regardless of the number of boats, and good all-around protection as long as you’re willing to move your boat depending on the wind direction.
It has been truly amazing at how few cruisers we’ve seen. When we were in Rock Sound our first year there were probably 30 other boats. This time we shared the anchorage with two others until a blow came in which raised the number of boats to a whopping six.
They say that cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places, but we have been extremely lucky since cutting the dock lines. Of course it helped that we did a complete refit on the boat before we left, but so far it’s been easy to find parts for the few minor repairs we’ve had. Well, our luck officially ran out last month.
Over the summer we, unbeknownst to us, had some water in the gasoline that went into the water maker. We discovered it over the summer when the water maker engine was coughing, just like the engine on our dinghy outboard did when we had water in that gas last winter in Red Shanks. So we poured out the gas and proceeded to use the water maker without any issues. Until. . . .
We went to start it when we were anchored in Royal Island, Eleuthera and saw that gasoline was leaking out of the carburetor. After doing some inspecting, Jeff noticed that the bolts holding the carb in place were loose, so he carefully tightened them. Now, Jeff used to be an air frames mechanic in the Marines so he knows how far he should tighten bolts. So the only thing we can figure is that there was a quality control issue with the bolt, because it broke.
Our plan for this season is to move to the Exumas via the Abacos and Eleuthera as quickly as the weather and circumstances allow. It’s simply warmer in the Exumas. Later in the spring as we head back north we’ll dawdle in Eleuthera and the Abacos, and we may also explore a bit farther afield in the interim.
Regular readers may remember that our first year in the Bahamas we checked in at Green Turtle and followed the same path, having a great time and sailing most of the way. Last year (our second year) we made the mistake of going to the Bahamas via Bimini, promptly got pinned down for a week due to weather, then had several days of lousy, crappy, constant motoring into headwinds until we finally landed at Staniel Cay in the Exumas.
This year we decided to switch back to year one’s route, and we can definitely say it’s the only way we’ll do it from now on. Since arriving at Green Turtle it has been almost nothing but sailing. The angle is simply better with the prevailing winds, and as an added bonus there are more places to stop along the way.
After checking in, all we needed to do was answer a short, daily health questionnaire for two weeks and ensure we were somewhere on day five where we could get our follow-up Covid test. The immigration officer told us that our arrival day was actually day one (we had originally thought it was the day of check in). Since that was the case we only had two more days before our test. We could get tested at the local clinic, so we decided it made sense to simply hang around Green Turtle a bit longer.
We decided to treat ourselves and rented a golf cart for the afternoon so we could explore the cay more thoroughly than we had in the past. It was a lot of fun and we found a fantastic beach for our return visit in the spring. Green Turtle has made an enormous amount of progress since Dorian. In fact, with the exception of a handful of buildings in the settlement and scattered throughout the island, you wouldn’t have known it was devastated 15 months earlier.
Thursday was test day, but on Wednesday the weather finally settled down so we decided to check out of the marina. We have a saying on Pegu Club: sometimes you watch the show, sometimes you are the show. Well, we were the show getting out of the slip. It was much narrower than we were used to, and the dinghy got snagged between the boat and the piling. There’s a t-shirt you can buy that says, “I’m sorry for what I said when I was docking the boat.” That would have been a good shirt to have on Pegu Club. Number one. What does that mean? You shall soon find out, faithful reader. Continue reading “Don’t these things usually happen in threes?”
The Bahamas are in the unenviable position of trying to support an economy that is heavily reliant on tourism while protecting its citizens and residents from Covid. Many of their tourists come from the United States which is one giant Covid hotspot at the moment. We wouldn’t have been surprised if the government had simply told people with U.S. passports that they weren’t welcome (as so many other countries have). Instead, they came up with a plan to balance the risks. So far, it seems to be working well – knock on wood.
Currently (and I do mean currently – there was a period where the rules were changing every 7-10 days), in order to bring your boat over to cruise in the Bahamas you need to have a negative RT-PCR Covid test and an approved health visa. The catch is that you can’t apply for the health visa until you get your negative Covid test, and with a few exceptions you must arrive in the Bahamas no more than five days after you take the test (test day is day zero). Winter weather windows for crossing the Gulf Stream can be tight, so the key is to find a laboratory with a quick turnaround time, along with a certain amount of luck.
When we arrived in West Palm we were actually in the middle of a three day weather window for crossing, but we had decided to pass it up. Our heads weren’t ready for it yet and we wanted to spend a few days checking out West Palm. We are super-careful with Covid so we weren’t able to see much, but we saw enough to know that we’d like to spend a week hanging out there post-Covid. There are tons of different restaurants and independent shops, the beach, museums, outdoor concerts, etc. Hopefully next year.
No matter how big your boat is, someone else always has a bigger one:
Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long for the next window. We were looking for a solid two days that would get us to Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, with a backup plan to check in at West End (only 50 nautical miles away from the Lake Worth inlet) if the window shrank.
What’s the big deal with taking the test and having the window disappear? Well, at $180/person for the tests (there are free tests available, but it’s a roll of the dice as to how quickly the results come back), $60/person for the health visa, plus a rental car, we were looking at a sizeable chunk of money if the window didn’t pan out. That being said, we would never cross the Gulf Stream without a good window so if we lost $500+, so be it.
When we woke up on Monday we saw that Friday was a possibility for crossing. By Tuesday morning it looked less likely. But on Wednesday morning not only did Friday look much better, but now Saturday and Sunday were also looking good. We reserved a rental car for the next day, just in case.
Thursday morning we woke up to listen to Chris Parker’s 6:30 a.m. forecast for the Bahamas and Florida. The window was still looking good. Gut check time: were we ready to roll the dice and spend the money? Telling ourselves it’s only money (yeah, right), we decided to go for it. Continue reading “The logistics of getting to the Bahamas during a pandemic.”
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.