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Monthly Archives: March 2017

Compass Cay and Black Point Settlement

Having topped off our fuel tanks the day before at Staniel Cay Yacht Club, on January 18th we brought up the anchor and set sail eight miles or so north to Compass Cay, a harbor known for its nurse sharks.  Chuck and Chris wanted to swim with them.  I wanted to get in the water with them as well, but moderate pain in my lower stomach at the site of a previous surgery was to prevent me from doing so. That pain has since disappeared but for almost a week it drove me nuts so I neglected to sit the excursion out.

Note:  Staniel Cay Yacht Club is not a yacht club at all, but a restaurant/bar/fuel dock.

The motor up to Compass Cay was uneventful.  We anchored out from the relatively shallow harbor.  The boys dropped the anchor and made the mile or so dinghy ride into the marina there.  I fished under crystal clear skies and in gin clear water…not a bite.

A couple of hours later the guys returned with great stories of their visit with the most gentle nurse sharks.

We upped anchor and headed back south to Black Point Settlement, the trip took a couple of hours and was less than twenty nautical miles.  By 1515 hours the anchor was back down.  Black Point Settlement is touted as the second most populated place in the Exumas, behind Georgetown.  We will take their word for it, we never left the boat…for the next morning we were headed out to Georgetown.



January 19th at 0830 hours we pulled anchor and headed to Georgetown.  Black Point Settlement is where we jumped over from the shallow Exuma flats on the east side of the Exumas, to the much deeper Exuma Sound on the west.

I put out a fishing line and then went below and read for much of the eight hour or so trip on down to Georgetown, 53 nautical miles.  An hour or so before our arrival I went topsides and found my line had been taken in.  I put it back out and within a few minutes got a huge strike.  One that snapped my line and took my lure.  Bummer.

We were happy to get to Georgetown.  Georgetown is the most populated area in the Exumas, an international airport, grocery stores, fuel, medical clinic, etc.  We were happy to get there for two reasons: my stomach pain was still in play and somehow Chuck had twisted his right knee…there was medical service in Georgetown.  Since arriving in Georgetown my stomach pain, and Chuck’s knee resolved.

Our arrival at St. Elizabeth’s Harbor behind Stocking Island was uneventful, by 1630 hours our anchor was down just off of the Chat and Chill, a local hangout for cruisers, a bar and grill located on the beach.  No sooner than the anchor was set a dinghy from the ketch behind us motored up and welcomed us to the harbor, Art and Allyson.  It was a great greeting, somewhat typical of the locations we’ve been to so far.  Art and wife were headed off the next day to the Turks and Caicos Islands; a day, night, and another day sail south. 

Just before dark we dropped the dinghy and motored to the beach for a grilled meal of fresh Mahi Mahi, slaw, and French fries…and a celebratory beer or two.

Georgetown was somewhat of a milestone mark for us.  It is traditionally the jumping off point for those headed on south to Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic for cruisers headed for the eastern Caribbean, of which we were one.  The multiple anchorages in and around Georgetown are known, at least in the cruiser’s guides, as Chicken Harbor or Turnaround Harbor.  The name is based on the fact that many cruisers bent on going further south into the Caribbean chicken out and turnaround here.  Instead, they go back north or east and flush their plans to go south into the more challenging weather and seas…either staying in the Bahamas or even heading back to the states.  Our plans were not to turn around.

It’s easy to get attached to this area.  The harbors and anchorages are protected from bad weather for the most part, there is virtually anything one might want in the nature of boat provisioning and such, friendly locals and cruisers, and generally just a cool place.  They have an active cruiser’s net on every morning at 0800 hours on VHF 72 with any information one might need.  According to that net, there were roughly 165 boats in the harbor as of this morning.  That changes daily as new boat arrive and depart daily…mostly arriving for the Cruisers Regatta…ten days of festivities.

After removing the starboard stern rail from our boat and having it repaired on the second day there, we’ve just kicked back and enjoyed the area.  Our friends Rod and Joe arrived a couple of days ago and that was a lot of fun.  Joe’s vessel, SV Happy Destiny, left this morning.  It will probably be the last time we see them for quite a while.  Their plans were never to go much further south than Georgetown.  Today they were headed east to Long Island and then more or less north through the Eleutheras and then even further north to the Abacos…before eventually heading back to the States. 

We met Rod and Janet on our Cuba trip where they were on their boat…just great people.  Then we ran into Rod in Bimini where he was crewing for his friend Joe, the owner of Happy Destiny.  Since then, we hop-scotched around them several times, running into them in Nassau, Leaf Cay, Staniel Cay, and here in Georgetown.  Just a lot of fun to be around them both.

As uneventful and laid back as the area of Georgetown has been we did have one near miss of sorts.  On Monday night most of the Stocking Island crowd cleared out to other anchorages in anticipation of winds gusting to the 50-60 knot range.  We stayed, feeling we had good holding.  Initially, we did.  The winds and seas never piped up to the range that was forecast in this area, but they did blow consistently in the 20-25 knot range with the occasional gust to 30 on Monday afternoon.  Late that same afternoon the winds seemed to be decreasing.  After a vigilant afternoon we retired below decks for dinner and a movie.

As the rather crappy movie was ending and the credits rolling, just after good dark, we checked our anchor…all appeared well and the boat was riding good on the hook.  But, a mere few minutes later we were somewhat shocked to feel the boat bumping off the bottom.  We were aground.

Going into major overdrive, we quickly ascertained the anchor had let go and we were dragging in 6’5” feet of water…we draw 6’8”…and we were beam to the seas…not good.  Starting the engine and using the anchor windless and bow thruster to get our bow into the seas, we manage very quickly to get off of the shoal and back out in the harbor to reset our anchor.  It was a very exciting twenty minutes or so, however.  When we got the anchor up it turns out that it was one big mass of sea grass and muck. 

We reset our anchor considerably further out in the harbor, with more scope.  We also established an anchor watch with someone in the cockpit for the remainder of the night.  Even so, we dragged anchor a second time around 0100 hours…about sixty feet it dragged before it set itself.  The winds never got above about 35 knots.

We actually foresaw this possible anchor drag scenario and Chuck and I discussed moving the boat further out from the beach earlier in the day, however, we decided to forego the exercise and PITA of moving.  After all, we’d held anchor in much stronger winds and seas in Staniel Cay, we thought to ourselves.  Well, live and learn, we won’t make the same mistake again of, truthfully, being too lazy to give ourselves adequate sea room should our anchor drag.  Life’s a carnival…

Our plans are to reprovision our boat over the weekend and refuel.  At the first weather window, we anticipate continuing south, most probably, to the Dominican Republic.  We will see.


Nassau to Allan’s Cay

Our stay in Nassau was actually not much, punctuated only by our visit to the Atlantis Resort.  And, for us anyhow, even Atlantis wasn’t all that, offering up only a very fine aquarium and their casinos.  After our water maker was installed and proven the only thing keeping us there was the weather.  At the first window of opportunity we planned to leave.  The first good weather would see us off to the Allan’s Cay-Highborne Cay area, and the Exumas.

On December 28, 2016 at 0632 hours and slack tide, we slipped our lines and headed out of Nassau Harbor for the 60-70 mile cruise to the Highborne Cay area of the Northern Exumas.  Chuck was at the helm.  Our course would take us initially west and then south around Providence Island before then turning east and the crossing of the Exuma Banks.  For those who don’t know, the Exuma Cays split two bodies of water:  the shallow (except for the Tongue of the Ocean) Exuma Banks to their east, and the very deep Exuma Sound on their west.  All of the water very near the myriad island is extremely shallow.  Nonetheless, the Exuma Banks offers miles and miles of 15’, more or less of open water, and great cruising.

It was a beautiful day with ESE winds just under 10 knots, seas were less than a meter, as we made the turn around Providence Island.  The waypoint marked on our chartplotter approaching, Chuck turned the helm over to me.  I nicked the waypoint and then made the turn east, following our route set to miss both the White Banks and, a bit further, the Yellow Banks, a shoaling area just South of Nassau.

…and then the chartplotter lost its signal.  Temporarily at least, we were sailing blind, only by compass…with about 5.5 hours to go to our anchorage.

Now, it wasn’t as bad as it might seem, after all, all GPSs lose their signal acquisition at times.  In fact, on our passage from Alicetown to Chub Cay we lost our GPS four or five times…but it reacquired the signal within a few seconds or so.  However, make no mistake, when one’s primary chartplotter is out that’s not a good thing.  In this case, we fully expected it to grab the signal momentarily. 

But, it didn’t.

Not to worry.  We have two Garmin chartplotters on board, as well as two independent copies of OpenCPN…one cell phone that could be used in a pinch, paper charts along with two hand held VHF radios giving us latitude and longitude, the Iridium GO and Delorme trackers, etc.  We were anything but lost.  But, losing the primary chartplotter that’s right in front of the wheel was majorly inconvenient.  I continued at the helm, bearing off to the south (to clear the White and Yellow Banks ahead) navigating by compass until Chuck and Chris got the backup OpenCPN on our PCs up and running.  Once up, we set one of the PCs in the cockpit and navigated with it.

The primary chartplotter in the cockpit never did acquire a signal.  The Garmin primary chartplotter, the Garmin backup down below at the nav table, and the AIS are all connected to a network and talk to each other.  The AIS and Garmin primary chartplotter both have separate external antennas.  For several reasons, we suspected we had an issue with the primary chartplotter’s antenna.

After we were back to a stable state, I turned the helm over to Chris and went below to read.  While I was below, Chuck disconnected our secondary Garmin GPS down below from the network; it instantly acquired the GPS signal.  Unlike the primary Garmin, the secondary Garmin has its own internal antenna…it acquiring gave further credence to our having an external antenna issue with the primary unit.  About five miles out of Allan’s Cay, I took the helm again to make the entrance into our anchorage.  With the Bluetooth headsets we have Chuck, from down below, steered me expertly into the anchorage.  At 1550 hours we entered the anchorage, fifteen minutes or less later the anchor was securely set.

Our anchorage was actually between two cays, Allan and Leaf.  As it turned out, we were anchored a hundred yards or so from SV Happy Destiny, the boat our friend Rod Casto and, his friend, Joe were on.  They anchored a couple of hours ahead of us.  Though the anchorage was quite protected from everything but north winds, there was a significant tide swing twice a day.

The next day we dropped the dink and went exploring.  Leaf Cay is known as being quite infested with iguanas.  Harmless as can be, the iguanas come to the beach for food handouts from the other cruisers and numerous tourist boats that travel the 35 miles or so from Nassau to see and feed them.  It’s pretty cool.

On the third day there, when two smallish motor yachts left the anchorage, we decided to move to a better spot, more in the middle of the field instead of quite close to the ironshore of both cays.  On the horizon were dark clouds directly to our north and our weather indicated a front with high northerly winds would be approaching.

Chuck and Chris coordinated this move with no input from me.  I wasn’t happy with their efforts at all.  No less than three times they dropped the hook and re-positioned the boat.  By the time they finally settled on a spot we were hit by the first squall line…and the tide changed.  The winds jumped from a leisurely eastish 8 knots to right out of the north at 25-30.  The boat hung beam to the winds and two foot or so chop, the tide not strong enough to swing the stern around and the bow into the wind.  They rigged a riding sail of sorts on the stern to help swing it around…a useless effort in my opinion.  I wasn’t happy.  The orientation of the boat did not change until the tide flooded. 

Other than the iguanas, there really wasn’t that much there.  We swam one day, but with the strong tidal current it wasn’t much fun.  Within a couple of days we were ready to go.  It would be three days before the front cleared and the wind clocked around to the east. 

We spent New Year’s Eve in the Allan’s Cay anchorage, anxious for Tuesday to come.  During that time we isolated the primary chartplotter’s issue as well as our auto helm.  Both had loose connections.


From Allan’s Cay to Staniel Cay

With our GPS up and the auto helm working, we raised the anchor at 0830 on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017.  I eased us off the hook and out of the anchorage.  When we reached the first of our preprogrammed waypoints I turned the helm over to Chuck.  There was a squall or two during the morning but otherwise another day in paradise.  The wind, as always it seems, was straight on the nose.  We never raised a sail.  I read most of the day.  The GPS gave our ETA around 1545 hours.

Again, about five miles out from out last route waypoint, I went topsides and relieved Chris; I would bring us into the anchorage.  They were expecting near gale force winds over the weekend at Staniel Cay and I wasn’t about to go through another anchoring fiasco like Allan Cay if avoidable.   I suppose it’s a control thing.  Though, truthfully, no one can drive our boat as good as I can…not bragging, just fact.

With Chuck on the bow with one headset and me at the helm with the other, we eased Freedom between numerous other yachts and into the main anchorage at a cay adjacent to Staniel Cay known as Big Major’s Spot, just off of Pig Beach.  One pass and the anchor was down and set. 

Pig Beach is a beach similar to the iguana beach on Leaf Cay.  Except for iguanas, they have pigs.  It’s a tourist attraction, just like Leaf Cay.  Boats go to the beach to feed the wild, but tame, domestic pigs.  When the dinks and runabouts beach, the pigs come running.  Touristy, but cool as well.  Like Leaf Cay, once one has spent about a half hour there, you’ve seen it all…forever.  Short trip, short visit, and then that’s it, the novelty is over.

After we were anchored, the dink went into the water.  A dinghy is like a yachts car.  You get wherever it is by yacht, then drop the dink to go to shore, explore, etc.  Dinks are very important…if there is no marina it is the only way to get to shore.  At Allan and Leaf there was nothing but the cays.  But, here at Staniel there is civilization or sorts, a couple of restaurants, a couple of bars, an airport with regularly scheduled flights, etc.  We all looked forward to going ashore.

Once started, Chris and Chuck decided to honk on over to the fuel dock and check things out.  I watched them motor away…and then get clobbered by a rainstorm.  LOL  Back I saw them coming.  No sooner did the squall subside than off they were again.  I went below and started to get dinner prepared.  An hour or so later I was surprised to see them in the cockpit.  Surprised because I didn’t hear the motor as they came up.  Turns out that just out a piece, the outboard lost water circulation; they shut it down.  And, then had to row back to the boat.  Poor guys.

We had a box of Yamaha spare parts but had no idea if we had another water pump impeller or not.  Chuck decided to not even look until this morning, choosing to put off any potential disappointment for another day.

This morning, the outboard spares were isolated and indeed there was a spare impeller in the lot.  However, once they got to the water pump it turned out that the only problem was sand that had blocked it up.  They flushed the sand, reassembled the lower unit, and the motor ran fine.  They just left to attempt check out Staniel again.

All is well.