24 Vero Beach to Marsh Harbor, Abaco Bahamas

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After a month at Vero Beach we felt like we were going on vacation as we headed south. It was sad to leave, but exciting to be pushing off again into new territory. The ICW changed very rapidly. Our anchorage at Peck Lake was wilderness, 2-miles later and we were into multi-million dollar homes and condos. As we got closer to West Palm Beach, condos and gated subdivisions became the norm. There was even a gated condo harbor with a security boat at the entrance. The guarded communities give us mixed emotions.

Some boater had been waiting for 3 weeks for ideal weather to cross the Gulf Stream. We waited 2 days carefully listening to the forecasts. If anything it the weather would again close in with ideal conditions never showing up. We decided to go leaving at 5 AM with John and Barb on Eriskay, a boat we met earlier in South Carolina. The winds were reported to be 15 knots from the east, so we would be motoring into them and the 3-5 foot seas. Reality turned these into 5-7 foot swells.

At 5 AM we started to haul the anchor. It wouldn’t come up. It was fouled on something and it was evident that I’d have to dive to clear it. It was still dark as I hit the water I was shocked to see the water was clearer than I’d expected. The light of the full moon made the bottom 10 feet down visible. The entire bottom of the boat stood out as if it were daytime. It make seeing what was wrong easy. The anchor was fouled on a cable. I had Ruth drop me a line. I dove and tied it on the back of the anchor. We cleared it by pulling it up backwards. Finally at 6 AM we were on our way.

The Gulf Stream flows north at 3 mph. The combination of current and wind from the wrong direction had us steering 50 degrees to the right of our intended landfall just to stay on course. It became evident that our crossing would take much longer than the 10 hours we had estimated. It was apparent we would not make West End and its tricky daylight only entrance before dark. We opted for a longer safer course, going north around Memory Rock so we could travel at night on the Brahma banks. We set our destination for Great Sale Cay and arrived at 5 AM having motored 23 hours in conditions that were so bumpy that sleep wasn’t possible especially if you are doing your first Gulf Stream crossing. We got the anchor down and crashed into bed.

We were up at 7 AM. The intense turquoise blue of the water took our breath away. In the morning light, the water glowed bright blue as if there were underwater lights. For two tired, but psyched sailors it was an amazing sight. As I went forward to pull up the anchor, I was enchanted to see the entire anchor line curving down to the bottom and could easily see the 20 feet of anchor chain 60 feet away pointing off to where the anchor disappeared into the white sand.

We made it all of about a quarter of a mile and then the engine died. One of the things on my Vero Beach R&R list left undone was to change fuel filters. I was sure that was the problem and went down and opened the filter. Sure enough, it was completely clogged. Spares were at hand, so a new filter wasn’t a problem. However, when I went for the small can of diesel used to refill the filter reservoir it was low, and I didn’t have enough diesel get the initial air out of the system. We radioed our plight to Eriskay and they came back and provided the diesel fuel necessary to fill the reservoir. A little more work and we again had our engine back.

We went to Green Turtle Cay to clear customs. You anchor off the government dock, put up the yellow Q flag and dink ashore with passports and ships papers. John from Eriskay and I went ashore. Ruth and Barb remained aboard as per the procedures for clearing into a country. We climbed up the ladder and encountered a totally unanticipated scene. Two neat rows of old one story homes guarded a very narrow street. There were no sidewalks. Green Turtle Cay Main Street was quiet except for the sound of the water, and a few chickens crowing in the distance. Not a person was in sight. At first we though we were on a alleyway, and then realized this was the main street of Green Turtle Cay. The visual and audio impact was over whelming. We found we were talking in whispers for fear of disturbing the quiet. As we headed up the street, a golf cart, one of the main forms of transportation, drove by.

We walked past the bank; open on Tuesday and Thursday for 2 hours, a grocery store; no customers, and a number of small shops, all open, but empty. Customs was closed, but the people in the post office indicated the customs lady had just left for lunch and would be back in an hour. We radioed the boat and told them of the delay and killed an hour talking with the policeman that had come over that day with the bank official who brought the money to conduct bank business.

Custom forms were interesting. Filled out by hand in duplicate without carbons. Interesting questions about number of people with plague, number of people who had died in transit and did we dispose of the bodies. Think their forms needed updating. Took almost an hour to fill out all the forms and then we were officially cleared for the Bahamas. We radioed the boat and the ladies came ashore in the second dink and we retraced our steps with Ruth and Barb experiencing the same wonderment and need to whisper as we explored town. Finally reality caught up with us and we went off in search of the sailors’ staple; ice cream cones.

We felt very official as we struck the Q flag and hoisted the Bahamian courtesy flag. You anchor in an exposed area to clear customs so we moved to a protected sound. We were going in at dead low tide. Eriskay went first (they draw less than we do) and radioed depths. They called 5 feet, our draft, and 30 seconds later we touched bottom. We bumped over and were into White Sound a snug harbor in Green Turtle Cay. We slept that night knowing we had officially reached a destination we had dreamed about but were never sure we would ever reach.

Cruising is about small experiences any one of which could be expanded into a story. Highlights of Green Turtle Cay include sitting on the deck of the Green Turtle Club having lunch in shorts while overlooking the harbor after just checking the Weather Channel on the Club TV and knowing the temperature in Milwaukee is 20. Walking the ocean beach and watching the breakers hit the reef a mile offshore. Walking into town. Getting a personally guided tour of the local museum. Sitting in Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar Inside Miss Emlily’s Blue Bee Bar(you have to see it to believe it) having a Goombay Smash while looking at thousands of calling cards, tee shirts and boat flags from fellow boaters. Hitching a ride back to the harbor in a van that was taller than it was wide, and listening to Jammin Jan Saturday night in the snugness of the Green Turtle Club lounge where fellow cruisers left signed dollar bills as calling cards.

The Bahamas have two major challenges. The first is getting across the Gulf Stream, the second is getting around Whale Cay, which requires going back out into the ocean to get around a shallow bank. The locals talk about “rages” when leftover waves from Atlantic storms make the passage treacherous if not impossible. For us, Whale Cay was a non-event. The weather was calm, winds light, and we easily got around. We were on our way to our next destination when a radio suggestion from Eriskay diverted us to Guana Cay. It’s smaller than Green Turtle Cay (100 residents as opposed to Green Turtle’s 450 residents) and has one great claim to fame. On Sunday Nippers has a pig roast. We headed for the pig. Nippers is on the Atlantic side of the island. You anchor on the lee side and walk (our choice) or take the golf cart the quarter mile to the other side. It’s the classic shack of a place that people love, on a hill overlooking the ocean. By the time we got the place was jammed and the pig had been devoured. To our complete surprise, Tom and Marilyn from Samum, our Erie Canal and ICW sailing friends were there. We had a grand reunion. For us, the attraction was the beach and Ruth and I spent the late afternoon walking along the beach. It’s a nice way to get some exercise.

We’re still trying to get used to sailing in shallow absolutely clear water. It’s like sailing in someone’s swimming pool. At one point we turned around and went back because Ruth spotted a starfish on the bottom in 15 feet of water and we wanted to see it again. A very light wind filled in and we became a sailboat again on our way to Marsh Harbor, our next major stopping point.

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