Crossing the Gulf Stream is not an event to be taken lightly. Going east, we have crossed seven times now. Sometimes we have had a great crossing and sometimes not-so-great. For those who have not done it, the key to crossing the Gulf Stream is finding the right weather window. Personally, I watch the weather like a hawk, catching the updates from as many sources as I trust as soon as they are issued. Most update about 1600 daily. Chris Parker (a weather guru who focuses on forecasts for cruisers – particularly in and around the Bahamas) sends his e-mail updates about 1700. I study them pretty hard, trying to tell exactly what they say and what they mean for the following week or ten days AND where the various forecasts agree and where they disagree. I started watching the weather closely about 10 Jan and saw two possible weather windows opening up, one around the 14th and 15th and one around the 18th and 19th. After that, nothing looked promising until the 26th or so; that meant paying at least an extra week of marina fees. Not good. As discussed in our previous entry, the 13th-15th were taken up transporting Spot back to VA, so we were trying very hard to make it the 18th.
On the 17th we turned in our rental car and made our final run to the grocery store (and, of course, Starbucks). By that evening we were at anchor in Lake Worth and on the 18th we were off. The crossing was probably the second or third best we have had – even Spot would have approved. The waves were 2-3 feet tops and they had a period that was long enough that we didn’t feel any chop. At about 2PM we arrived at Old Bahama Bay Marina, told them which slip we wanted and pulled in. It was great!
Normally we try to leave Old Bahama Bay within a day or two after checking in with Immigration and Customs. Often, however, we get caught by a cold front coming in from the US. They do call it a “weather window” for a reason – it is the space in between two frequently nasty weather events. We arrived on Friday, vegged out on Saturday, and planned to leave on Sunday. Mother Nature, however, had different ideas and produced one hell of a wind storm. Winds were sustained at 30kts and gusted to 38 (that I saw) inside the marina. In fact, the wind pushed us so far from the dock that we were unable to get off the boat the next morning. Only when it calmed down a little that afternoon could we pull the boat closer to the finger pier and get off.
The Freeport News headlines. We were on the
front lines of Bahamian politics for a day or two.
We are glad we left when we did!
When we finally got off the dock, we saw a flyer stapled to various pilings telling us that Old Bahama Bay Marina was closing effective 21 January and that everyone would have to leave the marina! Apparently there are two owners of the marina and they were having a spat (kind of like Trump and the Congress) with both acting immaturely. At any rate as we learned the following day there is no small spat in the Bahamas as you can see from the one billion font headlines in the Freeport News. And to think, if we would have stayed at the marina one more day, we, too, could have been interviewed and memorialized in the News.
Just before we left on the 21st, Tracey, a young lady in her mid-thirties or early forties with flaming red hair, also decided to leave. We didn’t get to know Tracey very well but we do know that her boat – a low-slung, sleek catamaran that looked to be designed more for speed than cruising – was new to her and that she didn’t have much experience with her boat or with sailing in general. She had two crewmen who, it would turn out, also knew very little about boat operations. She asked if we would help her leave the dock and of course we did. It was pretty clear, however, that Tracey didn’t know what she was doing. She didn’t have a steering wheel, instead she had a steering bar – and didn’t appear to know how to use it. She kept hollering in a very loud, almost panicky voice, “I can’t turn right!!” But she was the one on the boat in the captain’s chair and none of us could help her. In the event, four dock hands literally walked Tracey’s boat out to the main channel and let her go – at least I hope they let her go. We gave up after about 20 minutes of trying to assist; four dock hands is plenty, and besides we wanted to leave the marina at a reasonable hour as the weather was supposed to get worse that afternoon.
We also got reacquainted with Charlie and Peggy aboard Tranquility Base. They had a problem. One of their engines needed to be repaired. Charlie had identified the problem and ordered the part – but it was not going to arrive until the 24th, several days after the date by which we were all supposed to leave. I really don’t know what happened, but I am pretty sure they just stayed in place until they could repair her. Charlie and Peggy have an interesting approach to provisioning. During the summer, Peggy cooks 85 meals which are promptly vacuumed pack and frozen for the Bahamas. They have two large freezers on board from which they extract their meals when the time comes and voila, dinner.
We had originally intended to go north, then east to get to the Abacos. However, after a brief respite the wind was due to pick up and come from the north the following day. A trip to the Abacos would have exposed us to winds on our beam and would likely have been somewhat uncomfortable. Instead, we decided to head south to Port Lucaya, staying in the lee of Grand Bahama Island. We were thereby protected until we got to the marina itself. So, we left Old Bahama Bay just before 1000 and pulled into Grand Bahama Yacht Club early that afternoon. The trip was surprisingly uneventful. Given that there were still substantial winds, the cruise was as smooth as any we have seen recently. Apparently my plan of keeping to the lee of the island worked perfectly (said with a good bit of smugness).
At Lucaya we met our fellow cruisers Ian and Lynn aboard Windward, Steve and Jill aboard Jillaroo and Agnes and Oliver. We had a small gathering aboard Traveling Soul where we all ate, drank and made merry. We discovered that Ian and Lynn charter their boat four times during the year in the Exumas. It makes a little extra money for them and sounds like a great way to get a fresh look at the Bahamas – from a newcomer’s perspective. Steve is an Aussie, as you might expect from the name of his boat which is Jill’s name with “roo” as a suffix. Kind of cutesy, huh? I looked it up. I wonder if Jill knows that a Jillaroo is “a woman who is a trainee worker on a sheep or cattle farm.” Next time we see them I’ll ask. J
We also met another of our temporary dockmates, Vince, on the way to the grocery store. Vince kind of keeps to himself (with his two kids and – I think – a wife, though we have never seen her) aboard his 67 foot Nordhavn. For those of you who don’t know, the Nordhavn is kind of the Rolls Royce of power boats. A slightly used 67-footer would cost between three and four million. In case you are feeling sorry for the kids, you need not. They speak three languages and when they are not on the boat, they are in one of Vince’s houses – the big one in Cancun or one of several in Europe. Yea, it is this kind of people with whom we hobnob – on our way to the grocery store.
"The Big Girl Special" at Daddy Brown's
Port Lucaya is kind of fun because of the marketplace. There may be twenty restaurants, ranging from Daddy Brown’s conch stand to some fairly high end restaurants, like Flying Fish or Luciano’s. On Tuesday’s we went to Daddy Brown’s, ordered the Big Girl special consisting of cracked lobster, cracked conch, some excellent fried shrimp, some conch fritters and of course a Kalik (the local beer). We finished up at Zorba’s Coffee, Pastries and Greek Cafe. Zorbas coffee is really good. As I pointed out to Ann, “it may not be Starbucks, but we are drinking it in 75-degree weather in the middle of January.”
We had visited the marketplace last year and had gone to Flying Fish, one of the high end restaurants. It was good, but not as extraordinary as we had been led to expect. Last year, too, we downloaded the dinghy and explored the canal system in the area. This year, the wind kept the dinghy in its davit and we didn’t get the opportunity to explore. Finally, on Sat the 26th the wind abated enough for us to depart Grand Bahama Yacht Club and head to Great Harbour Marina.
|The view from the restaurant at CarriEarl.|
We left Grand Bahama about the same time that Jillaroo did, and we became buddy boats for the crossing. The first half of our 70 mile trip to went just fine. Although there was a little rain, the seas were 2-3 feet, the wind was abaft our port beam and all was right with the world. As we went further, however, not only did the rain continue, the wind seemed to pick up, the seas increased to maybe 3-5 feet, and the winds shifted so they were almost directly on our beam. Beam seas means they were coming directly from the side of the boat, so when a five-footer came at us, it would raise the port half of the boat several feet in the air until it passed under us, then it would drop the port side and lift the starboard side of the boat in the air. The result was a rolling from side-to-side. It was NOT comfortable, so, we decided to tack a little. Rather than follow the direct route (the rhumb line) to our destination we headed 20 degrees to starboard (to put the seas off abaft our port beam, then turn 20 degrees to port, whence we would be taking the seas on our forward port quarter. While it did not eliminate the problem, it reduced the roll considerably. It wasn’t until we reached the Bahama bank and, simultaneously, the protection of Great Stirrup Cay – which was between us and the wind (hence, for any landlubbers out there, we were in the lee of Great Stirrup) – that the roll disappeared. We arrived at Great Harbour Marina at 1530 or so on Monday.
The next day it was a bit windy outside, but the sun was out and it was a great day. We first went for a walk and explored a little of the ruins of the Golf Clubhouse. In the late sixties, Great Harbour was going to be the “next big thing.” It saw visitors like Cary Grant, Brigitte Bardot, Telly Savalas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Ingrid Bergman, Jack Nichlaus and others. The reason was the nearness to the US and the beautiful, beautiful beaches. What do you put in when you are trying to attract celebrities in the sixties? A golf course, of course. And put in a golf course they did. It was built by Joe Lee, who designed over 125 courses in seven countries. According to one web site, Joe considers the original 18-hole, par 72-regulation golf course to be one of his best. Apparently, it was quite the thing as it was the site for three major tournaments. Over time, however, it became clear that Great Harbour wasn’t “the next big thing,” and investment funding started sliding. The golf course is a shadow of its former self. Great Harbour is another of those “can’t miss” Bahamian developments that missed. It sucked up a lot of money and left ruins in its wake. It is still a nice place, even though Bardot doesn’t visit any more. The marina is nice, the beaches are fabulous and there’s this one restaurant …
After our walk we, along with Steve and Jill from Jillaroo, went to Carriearl, in our opinion one of the best restaurants in the out islands of the Bahamas. Run by Angie and Marty, two British ex-pats, Carriearl is a boutique hotel and restaurant. Unfortunately, since it is open for dinner only Wednesday For the two of us our brunch cost $88, including tip and VAT.
Monday morning was a bit blustery so we just stayed on board. It started clearing up in the afternoon so we borrowed some rather decrepit bicycles from the marina and headed off to the beach. We didn't go on the beach as far as Ann wanted, but we still got some great pictures of the (almost) famous Sugar Beach.
Ann’s Notes: Well after proof reading the blog, Michael presented a lot of information.
We have been hiding from the wind since we got here, the good news is we meet some old cruising friends and made a few new ones. Stephen and Jill are a very nice couple, I think the both of them are new to cruising the Bahamas, they had many questions and Michael had a few answers since we have done this trip more than once. Having the gathering on our boat, was fun, having four cruising couples on board all talking about different subject make for an interesting evening. I think Michael and I would like doing charters on Traveling Soul, something to think about.
I am still adjusting to not having my sweet little feline on board. Dave and Joan send daily updates and pictures of Spot, they are so sweet. Since Spot is not with us, it has lead to my next segment of the blog.
1. I can leave my computer lid open and not have Spot sit on my keyboard and leave strange feline messages on my screen.
2. I can keep a glass of water on any table without a lid on it, no little paws to stick in the glass and play with the ice cubes, than get bored and knocks the whole glass and it contains on the floor or carpet
3. No kitty litter to vacuum off the galley floor, steps, hallway or carpet at least twice a day. What will I do with all that extra time I spent vacuuming?
4. I can now leave the midship doors open and stern door open without snapping in the screens. There is no sneaky Spot to try to escape from the boat and go exploring.
5. Last but not least, No Spot to say good morning to, or tell her we are leaving, or returning, or time to go to bed. I miss my little space heater at night in bed with us.