As planned, we left Lynyard Cay in the Abacos at 6:30 AM, along with Makani and Smiles, and passed through the Little Harbour cut headed to Royal Island, a small piece of land just north of Eleuthera. This is a 50-mile jump in the Atlantic Ocean from the northern Bahamas to the central Bahamas. Once again the water is very deep (10,000 feet) and it is important to choose the window carefully to avoid nasty conditions that make the trip uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the sea state was not calm (as was predicted), at least for the second half of the day.
Until about noon, we flew our reefed genoa (big headsail) in about 20-knot wind. We were plowing through the water with a very comfortable wave height and direction. About an hour off shore we spotted a group of about 10 dolphins. Is that called a pod? If I had Internet access I would google it for accuracy. Anyway, they were joyously (at least it looked joyous) leaping clear out of the water in unison. They did that about 10 times headed straight for our boat. Definitely the most spectacular sighting to date…I loved it! If I happen to be a sea creature in my next life I definitely want to be a dolphin. I sat back in the cockpit feeling exhilarated and thought, this is perfect…fantastic…then the wind changed direction.As the wind shifted to the north (NW or NE, I don’t remember) the water began to build, until we had short, choppy 5-foot waves hitting us almost broadside. Yuck. This causes the boat to pitch and sway very uncomfortably. Every so often, when the wave direction was just right, the boat would rock violently sideways (OK, violent is a little harsh, but I can’t think of a better word.) I happened to be below decks for one such surge at the moment when our upright fridge door flung open and all the contents flew out onto the floor. On top of the chaotic heap of food was a broken bottle of garlic that scattered finely minced bits of the malodorous bud over everything. I admit that witnessing this caused a few four-letter words starting with “F” to involuntarily leave my mouth. I set about cleaning up the mess, which under the conditions was wiping off the garlic as best I could and throwing the fridge contents into any available container. Garlic may smell good when cooking, but it definitely smells very bad on the floor of a boat that is pitching and rocking in the sea. A half hour later I emerged from the galley to get some fresh air and decided that if that didn’t make me sea sick, nothing will.
Meanwhile, Lynn had resorted to hand steering because the autopilot was struggling too much with the wave conditions. This made the going smoother since Lynn is better able to anticipate the wave movement and correct accordingly. We spent the next three hours in this way till we reached the cut through the Egg Reef that would lead us to shallow, calmer water close to the Eleuthera coast. This is a very narrow cut so we were a little tense as we traversed it for the first time. About 30 minutes later we were comfortably anchored in Royal Island Harbour. We were beat but very happy to have arrived. After an hour of scouring the floor and wiping all traces of garlic from the fridge contents, I was finally able to relax in the first of many little private paradises.
We spent a day just chilling out in Royal Island. There was once an attempt to grow pineapples on the island and the remains of the plantation still stand. We wandered around the stone ruins and then across the island to the windward side. There is an incredible, pristine reef there that is apparently fantastic snorkeling, but unfortunately the wind conditions were not conducive to that activity.
The next day we set out on a short 10-mile hop to the next small islands to the east, Russel Island and St. Georges Cay. We moored inside the small channel just off the picturesque little town of Spanish Wells (actually a large town by Bahamian standards), which turned out to be a new favorite. The waterfront is lined with pastel-colored houses and all sorts of boats docked along the bulkhead. This is the fishing center of the Bahamas so it is quite a bustling place. We rented a golf cart with Kathi and John and toured from one end of the island to the other. As with most places in the Bahamas, the locals are incredibly friendly and everyone waves when you pass by. We stopped at beautiful Russel Beach that lines the entire windward side with soft, pink coral sand. We also had lunch at The Generation Gap, feasting on the delicious homemade potato salad.
One of our primary concerns was to find a spot to watch the football games on Sunday. Since Spanish Wells is a so-called dry town, there are no bars where you can normally tune in to sporting events. The boys were especially anxious since both the Ravens and 49ers were playing in their respective semi-final games. We were finally told that the local kids would be setting up a TV at “Members Only” down by the park. At first I thought that meant you had to be a member to attend, but it is really just a tongue-in-cheek name for what turned out to be a makeshift camp in the woods.
On game day we loaded our football-watching paraphernalia (beer, snacks, chairs, blankets) in the dingies and went in search of Members Only for some tail-gating, which I guess is more aptly called transom-gating in this case. We found the spot and were quite impressed and somewhat amused! The island kids had set up several wooden buildings fully equipped with stove, sink, ratty old chairs, a stage with drums, and a variety of decorations strewn about (not to mention old bottles of booze and such.) It would have been a great place to watch the game, but alas, nobody actually showed up with a TV. So, we went to Norma’s Takeaway instead, the only other place showing the game. It was actually quite comfortable there with a picnic table and now old-fashioned tube TV set up behind the little restaurant. Unfortunately, one of the other patrons was getting progressively more inebriated and louder as the night wore on. We finally left part way through the second game when we couldn’t take it anymore (now you know why I say “so-called” dry town.) As it turned out, neither team won so that takes the pressure off trying to find a place for Superbowl!
We left the next day and made a short hop to anchor on the western-most tip of Eleuthera. The 15-20 knot wind was perfect for sailing with a nice beam reach all the way. This took about twice as long as motoring, but we would sail at 5 knots instead of motoring at 7 knots any day. We were accompanied by another group of 5 dolphins on the way who swam alongside the boat for a bit before heading off…I even heard one calling “eee…eee…eee” when he crested the surface.
Current Cut is another very narrow cut that has quite an extreme current running though it…hence the name. We chose to anchor on the east side and wait for the next day to pass through this area with a more favorable current direction. For the remainder of the day we walked across the island to check out Current Settlement, consisting of a few houses, a general store, a library, a post office and a playground. On the way we were stopped by some local residents who offered us directions and invited us for cocktails! Lynn also chatted with the women in the general store (well, he was flirting really…does that surprise anyone?) Back at the boat we topped the day off with a little skinny dipping and an al fresco shower…another private paradise. I so often feel very privileged that we have access to these stunning places all on our own, like long gorgeous beaches with nobody on them but us and spectacular sunsets with only a boat or two to add to the beauty.
Passing through Current Cut the next morning we registered a maximum of 11.3 knots travelling with the current. This is only a little more than 13 mph, but feels really fast in a sailboat. Just after you get through the cut you need to make a 90 degree turn while still in the current and pass within about 100 feet of the rocks to stay in the channel. Needless to say, this was an exciting way to start the day! We then motored 40 miles to Rock Sound with the wind right on the nose. After we dropped the anchor we reconnected with Smiles who welcomed us with a happy hour on their boat.
Rock Sound is the Eleuthera equivalent of Marsh Harbour, much more industrial than other places on the island. We have been spending most of the past few days dealing with what seems like endless boat repairs. I would like to report that our boat woes have ceased since fixing the battery bank in Beaufort, but sadly that is not the case. I don’t mean to start whining again, but I think it appropriate to impart a true picture of all aspects of the cruising experience. As I have said before, it is definitely not all pina coladas on the beach.
Our latest issues are a furling headsail that will not unfurl due to an as-yet undiagnosed problem with the controller, and a stopped up head. Lynn has successfully cleared up the latter…I know that most of you landlubbers would consider the head problem to be a bigger crisis, but we would actually be happier if we could fix the furler since without it we have no mainsail. And no sooner had Lynn fixed the head than our freezer, holding about 500 dollars’ worth of meat provisions decided to conk out. We had lined up a local refrigerator repair guy to look at it “first thing” this morning, but in true island fashion, he has not shown up and it is going on 12 PM. We are starting to lose hope that we will get the freezer fixed, so our back up plan is to divvy up the frozen goods into our other small freezer and Makani’s freezer and to eat a lot over the next week or so!
At the moment we are trying to track down a pesky leak under our galley sink. Oh well, these are just small glitches in the daily activities aboard Coyote. But they are frustrating and I feel badly for Lynn because he works so hard to keep our boat ship shape. On the upside we worked on installing the water maker throughout some of our more lengthy delays and it is now chugging along producing 30 gallons of fresh drinking water each hour it runs. I complained about the hefty price tag when Lynn wanted to buy it, but I am now forced to admit that it is truly a very nice luxury that I am quickly realizing I would not want to do without (kind of like a freezer on board that I am soon going to have to do without)! We have even been supplying Makani with fresh water 10 gallons at a time, which is a fair trade for the air they will be supplying us for diving.
So, that brings you all pretty much up to date. So far the weather has been fairly good for travelling, usually in the mid-70s but somewhat windy. At least we have had no significant cold fronts, which is unusual for Bahamas in the winter. We are now waiting for a good weather window to cross Exuma Sound to Highborne Cay. Then we will island hop for about a month checking out the Exumas. It is much more secluded there and we plan to spend our time snorkeling, diving, exploring the islands and just enjoying the experience. We are still traveling with Makani, which means our evenings usually start with a delicious dinner followed by a grueling euchre match. More on the Exumas in the next blog!