So, let's see, where to start to fill you in? (There are pics below the narrative below, as well as more pics if you follow the link to our Picasa site.)
Bahamas - We had a great time in the Bahamas and stayed there until March 5th. One great joy we that we really explored the Exumas as a result of the Casselmans' visit (we went up and down from Nassau to Staniel Cay 5 times). After dropping the Casselmans off in Nassau, we headed south back to Farmers and, for the first time this trip, farther south. Because of windy conditions, we decided to take the banks route from Farmers to Lee Stocking Island via the Pimblicos. This is a very shallow route for shoal draft vessels only. It was really interesting to see a new part of the Bahamas, and the shoals were fun to navigate through (we touched the bottom just once and caught a huge barracuda - of course, just as we were heading through one of the tricky spots). We then had a wonderful couple of days on Lee Stocking Island, where there is a marine research center. While there, we hiked (if you will) to the highest point in the Exumas, which is all of 123 feet. (We will be sure to add that to our climbing resumes.)
South of Lee Stocking Island we headed to Elizabeth Harbor/Georgetown, Great Exuma Island. Georgetown is truly a mecca for cruisers and there are literally hundreds of vessels there in the winter. Unexpectedly we arrived during the Cruisers Regatta (we thought it would be over before we got there), which is a 2 week party/festival held by cruisers. We were initially excited to arrive during Regatta, since we’d had such a good time in Georgetown during our honeymoon. But this time we had a difficult time feeling connected to the community. There were a number of boats in Georgetown that we’d met further north, so we expected to just jump right in with all the fun, but it felt like everyone had already “coupled off” by the time we got there. We were also facing a weather forecast that was described as the “most significant weather event of the winter,” with winds forecast to blow steadily at 30-35 with gusts to 40 for more than a week. At first we thought we’d have to wait the storm out at Georgetown (and we were groaning about that), but then, just 3 days ahead of the storm, we were listening to the weather forecast one morning and decided that we had a reasonable window to move south before the storm arrived. So we literally finished breakfast and got the boat ready to leave, heading to the out islands of the Bahamas.
The islands of the Bahamas south of Georgetown are referred to as the “out islands” because it’s quite remote compared to the rest of the Bahamas. The settlements (i.e., towns) are few and far between as are protected anchorages. We were a little nervous about heading south to beat a storm, but we were also familiar with the out islands from our honeymoon and from delivery of Blue Kai from Curacao (including a stop in Clarencetown, Long Island on each trip for engine repairs). We also had come to understand that our boat can travel pretty fast – we often travel around or over 8 knots. But there’s a reason people call Georgetown “Chicken Harbor,” so we certainly thought through contingency plans if anything happened to go wrong.
We set out from Georgetown on Saturday March 3rd, spending the night in Conception, a deserted island just northeast of the north end of Long Island. We dropped the anchor at Conception in the late afternoon, and immediately jumped in the dinghy and buzzed to the beach to give the kids a chance to run around and play before the long passage south. It was one of those moments that gets locked in your memory – I knew that we were leaving the Bahamas soon and so this might be our last beautiful, clear water beach for a while. The kids were running and laughing, the water was warm, the island beautiful and only one other boat visible – far south in the anchorage. We walked on shore a bit and the kids played in the water. At some point the kids got us all to line up at the top of the beach and run full speed into the water until you couldn’t help but dive forward. It was really special. We also had one of those “we’re not in Kansas anymore moments,” when I saw Danny stand up periodically to look around. The only thing he could be looking for was sharks (sharks like to come out of the deep to hunt around dusk). Plus, Danny had cut his head exploring on shore so he was bleeding just a bit. I’d thought about sharks earlier, but once I saw Danny also looking around I decided that I’d stand a little farther up on the beach to be the shark patrol. :)
We left Conception very early on Sunday, March 4th and headed south. I can’t say we had a smooth trip, and nearly all of it was motor sailing, but we made it safely to Sapodilla Bay in Providenciales (“Provo”), Turks and Caicos Islands nearly 36 hours later on the afternoon of March 5th.
Turks and Caicos Islands:We were thrilled to have travelled from Nassau to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) in 8 days. To put it in perspective, on our honeymoon we spent 7 full days in Mayaguana Bahamas (the farthest southeast island) waiting to cross to the TCI. Once we got to Provo, we decided to spend a couple of days at a marina so that we wouldn’t be entirely boat bound when the storm that was forecast to hit Georgetown got to Provo. We got a slip at South Side Marina (the ride over was quite exciting as the winds had already started to pick up), and had one of the most unexpectedly delights on our trip so far.
We were in Provo for a full month 9 years ago, and we would not have described it as cruiser friendly. There weren’t many services for cruisers and the island is really spread out, so if you don’t have a car it’s hard to explore or get much done (like grocery shopping). But now, at South Side Marina, we found a wonderful, cruiser friendly marina. Charlyn, our friendly host, offered rides to the grocery nearly every day and ran a cruisers’ net every morning. There was a happy hour every evening at 5 and a cruisers’ barbeque Thursday night. The marina drives their truck to the Sapodilla Bay anchorage to bring those cruisers to the barbecue. Plus, we got to ride the storm out at the dock. We checked the wind speed indicator at one point in the marina, and even though we were protected behind a hill, the wind at the top of our mast was in excess of 41 knots!
We met many wonderful cruisers at the marina, including a couple from Seattle and a family that hails from both Alberta and B.C. Canada. The family had two young kids and the parents do the typical northwest outdoor stuff, including climbing and mountain biking. (For our climber friends, they actually live in Canmore just a few houses down from Will Gadd and Kim C., so we enjoyed lots of climber talk about ice routes in Alberta for several days!) To top it off, our kids were thrilled to be there because they had a perfect slab of concrete for riding scooters, including a steep driveway that Rye enjoyed thoroughly. But because our budget doesn’t allow for much time in marinas, and because yet another weather window opened up to move east, with some sadness we left South Side marina after 3 nights and headed east over the Caicos Banks toward the Turks Islands.
We were hoping to visit Grand Turk, but when we arrived at South Caicos later that afternoon, we poked our nose into the Turks Passage (a much deeper passage between the Caicos islands and the Turks Islands) to test that the headings to Big Sand Cay (a staging island for Luperon, Dominican Republic) as well as the heading from Big Sand Cay to Luperon. The wind was from the ENE, and based on what we saw at South Caicos, it looked like we would be able to sail (yes, SAIL) from TCI to Luperon. We were torn because we wanted to visit something other than Provo, but it’s very rare to get a weather window to sail (rather than motor) to the DR. We felt like we just couldn’t let that opportunity pass, so we headed south and east. We got to Big Sand Cay and, using conservative calculations on how long it would take us to get to the DR (you MUST get in as close as possible to dawn to avoid building trade winds), we didn’t feel like we had enough time to drop the sails and rest at Big Sand. So I quickly made grilled cheese while we were in the lee of Big Sand and we headed on to Luperon.
The thing about sailing is that if you have wind to push your sails, you also have seas. So, while we were really happy to be sailing to the DR, we were traveling in moderately large seas. Probably 6-8 feet, and at times with additional wind driven chop on top. So this was not exactly a smooth ride, but boy was it fast. We were moving at 8+ knots most of the night. When we realized we would get in to Luperon too early, we put a reef in, but our speed stayed at 8 or above. So we pulled in the head sail, but we only dropped down to the high 7’s. The problem with that is you can’t enter Luperon harbor in the dark, so once we got to the coast of the DR, we literally had to tack and motor back and forth for about 2 hours outside the entrance to the harbor waiting for daylight. (Wished we’d known that back at Big Sand Cay.). That delay was a little brutal after a rough overnight passage, and then to top it off, I (Susan) got confused entering the harbor and directed Danny right into a mud shoal in the entrance. Classic tired, poor thinking. I still feel sick thinking about how desperate it felt running aground in the entrance to the harbor at 6:00 a.m. Thankfully Danny was able to put our big engines to good use and motor us back into the channel. And soon we had the anchor down in lovely Luperon harbor, following by a visit from the Commandante later in the morning to clear us in.
We’ve only been here since Sunday, March 11th, but it looks like we will be leaving tomorrow (assuming we can get a quick adjustment to our outboard completed today). There are many boats who have been here a full month waiting for a weather window to leave, so we’re feeling pretty fortunate with our weather windows. The downside, though, is that we really loved the DR when we were here last and would honestly rather spend more time here if we knew when the next weather window would arrive. But our next port is likely to be in the DR, Samana, so we may yet get a chance for exploration of the DR. We’d love to get to Santo Domingo while we are here.
There are some tricks to traversing the north coast of the DR, which I won’t go into here, but it looks like we've got a big weather window that will allow us to leave tomorrow morning and possibly go straight to Samana (about 140 NM east). There's a beautiful marina there with dockage at $1/foot (at least for monohulls) and a very beautiful national park, so we're looking forward to exploring that area. If all goes well, we will then have window to cross the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico a week later.
There is a bit of relief getting to the DR because, for the most part, we have left behind the places where food and supplies are very expensive and/or unavailable. I look forward to letting go of the hoarding instinct I’ve developed around groceries and supplies. And apparently there are even Costcos in Puerto Rico --- I can hardly imagine!
Hopefully the internet will also be easier to find and we will be able to write and post more.
And, finally, a few pictures of what we’ve been doing over the past weeks. Hope you enjoy.
Blue Kai lying at Warderick Wells:
This is not the bottom of a pool, but the sandy sea floor Blue Kai at in the Exumas:
The shadow of our sails on the sea floor:
Here's the view of masts when we arrived in Georgetown:
The beeeeeautiful Mahi Mahi we caught just off Mayaguana en route to the Turks and Caicos (Susan was channeling her friend Chris as she landed this big one!):
Blue Kai at South Side Marina, Turks & Caicos:
Wind speed indicator while tucked in at South Side Marina, TCI:
Drying laundry as we cross the Caicos Banks:
Entering Sandbore Channel, TCI, with the bad weather on its way (Denis & Diane - how about that flag!?!):
Cap'n Dan of Captain Dan's Crazy Carribbean Adventures fame:
Rye and Danny (Danny is probably answering Rye's constant question "Can we fish here?" And, yes, Rye is naked as often as possible.)
Danny navigating the shallow Pimblicos (and, no, there is no darker water underneath the boat):
Hannah hanging in the cockpit:
Rye eating (with our shell collection in front):