26 Nassau, Bahamas

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When we returned to the marina, Tranquility had been moved to a slip and spider webbed in with all lines doubled. We quickly learned why. Yet another storm was forecast to roll across the Abacos. This one was forecasted to pack winds of 50 mph and cross directly over the island. We quickly unpacked and joined in with storm preparation. Down came the radar reflector courtesy flag and ensign. All the canvas on the cockpit enclosure was removed. Extra lines were added to hold the dink securely to it’s resting place on the bow. We were ready. As we looked out into the harbor, we found it almost empty. Everyone had gone into marinas for protection.

We were lucky and missed the storm’s center. The low went east of the Abacos and the resulting north wind put us in the lee of shore. We got 30-mph winds over the deck. Talking with long time cruisers, we learned this is the worst winter they can remember. Blame went to El Nino of course. The bad news for us was that the high winds were going to stay for a few more days.

Sometimes we just fall into things. Tom on Samum was asked to deliver Moorings charter boat 100 miles south to Nassau, take people out sailing and then return the boat. He asked me to help. I agreed as long as Ruth could go along. He convinced his wife Marilyn to go along and all we needed was a weather window. At the time it was still blowing 30 mph. Sunday and Sunday evening the high winds continued holding everyone at the docks. Early Monday, the wind was down to 20-25 mph and we decided to go.

The big challenge was getting out the Man-O-War Channel and into the open ocean. The channel is a small gap in the reef maybe 100 yards wide. If we were in the States, there would be buoys and finding the channel would be easy. In the Bahamas all we had was an sketchy set of charts and a local cruising guide with slightly better detail chart drawings and GPS waypoints for either side of the reef. I became navigator, loaded to waypoints into my handheld GPS and checked and rechecked them. We were off at first light accompanied by 7 other boats.

Courage at the dock was quickly tempered with reality and rough seas as we headed the 3 miles to Man-O-War Channel. We were in the lead. Ahead, appeared a solid line of surf as 10-foot rollers crashed over the reefs. The rocks we were picking out didn’t appear to match the chart. The boats behind appeared to be on a different course. Everyone was tense. None of us had negotiated a channel this small and vague in such rough conditions before. There was concern that maybe we should follow someone else out the channel.

The GPS indicated we were on course, and we still had depth under the keel so we slowed a little and kept going forward. As we closed on the first waypoint the perspective changed and the rocks began lining up the way they looked on the charts. We could now make out the gap where the surf stopped, and just whitecaps marked the channel with surf again starting on the other side. It was like climbing a wall as we went from the 2-3 foot swells on the lee of the reef into the 10-12 foot rollers. We cleared into the open ocean, crossed the second waypoint and headed south. We all started breathing again. We radioed back that the passage was easy.

Fears and concerns gave way to exhilaration as we cut the engine, and continued on at hull speed with just a working jib set. We were flying, with spray coming over the bow. Occasional rogue waves caught the boat just right and sent white water completely over the dodger, bimini and down on the helmsman. One caught Ruth. She had her foul weather gear on but had neglected to put up the hood. Salt water went down her neck soaking her clothes necessitating a change of clothes and drying out the inside of the foul weather gear. We adjusted course slightly to reduce white water coming aboard and settled down for the 16-hour sail to Nassau. Everyone put their foul weather gear hood up when they were on the helm.

Ruth and I were delighted we’d come. Normally we would never have gone out with the high winds. Now that we were out, and had the boat under control, we loved the wild ride. We just wished we were on Tranquility with the comfort of the enclosed cockpit. Tom and Marilyn had second thoughts. Neither one could stay below for very long without becoming seasick. We named the little seats Hunter and other companies now put in the corner of the stern pulpit–barf seats.

Late in the afternoon dolphins surrounded us. We lost count after 20 and estimated at least 40 or more. There were babies and parents. They swam behind us, along side and ahead of the boat. We’d watch them loaf along behind the boat and then rocket forward to play in the bow wave, peel off and return to the stern to repeat the performance. The show went on for almost a half-hour.

We arrived at Nassau after dark and had the challenge of picking out the harbor entrance and channel. Radio messages told us buoy lights were out and one of the major range lights was out. We went in slowly, and found our way to the dock without problems.

Nassau is a study in contrasts. Very rich areas catering to affluent tourists and very poor areas where the locals live. Across the harbor was a marina with a couple of 200-foot mega-yachts. We could see the towering hotel casino complexes. Huge private homes and condos lined the shore. On our side, three cruise ships were in at the main dock. Downtown was jammed with people from the ships. A few local shops sold Bahamian goods. They seemed to be crowded out by shop after shop selling duty free liquor, perfume, or jewelry. Crammed in between were the tee shirt shops. It was interesting to see, but a shopping center does a poor job of representing what a country is like.

We heard radio traffic for Galiander and Receta. We traveled the ICW with both of them at various times. We called and met the next day to swap notes and adventures about our trips and crossing.

Once out of downtown the roads were a challenge. British tradition we learned has a fence all around your property including the front yard. Most of these in Nassau were stone too at least waist high. They were built right at the road edge. The road had no shoulder, just a gutter, so it’s necessary to walk in the gutter about a foot or two from oncoming traffic. Fortunately, this appears to be very normal for the drivers and they always managed to inch over to give us clearance.

Near the bridge local fishermen had set up stalls and were selling freshly caught fish and conch. Their boats bobbed in the clear water behind them. You could even buy fresh raw conch salad watching the fisherman remove and chop up the conch.

In two days we crammed in a number of historic sites. Visited a fort that was the smallest I’d ever been in. Only had four cannons. Found the palm botanical garden interesting. Hiked to the Queens Staircase located deep in a quarried cut in the rocks. Slaves to build one of the forts had quarried the cut. The stairs were added later to let people get to the top to see the view. All of the sites looked like they would have general appeal to tourist, but were poorly maintained and not promoted very well.

At 7 p.m. we headed out for our return trip to Marsh Harbour. Once clear of the harbor we found fresh beam winds and 6-8 foot seas that gave us terrific sailing. We turned the helm over to the autopilot and sat back to enjoy beautiful sailing. Around 10 p.m. the full moon came up and we enjoyed a magical night of sailing in ideal conditions with the moonlight dancing on the rollers. The sailing was exhilarating and even though we set watches, Tom, Ruth and I spent most of the night up enjoying the ride.

Our two days in Nassau and the day we got back had gentle breezes and temperatures in the 80’s. Everyone was out snorkeling or diving. Our neighbors in the next slip told us that most of summer is like that in the Bahamas and we should stay. It’s tempting. The nice weather and great sailing also made us itchy to travel. We started planning to take Tranquility south. We bailed out of the marina and anchored out. The next day the weather forecast dashed our hopes. The wind shifted to the south and words like intense lows and gale warnings were back in the forecast. We regrouped and put together Plan B. Since the weather wasn’t going to cooperate, we find our adventures locally.

We headed for Man-O-War Cay. We’d already been around it, and had visited by ferryboat when the local school was having a rummage sale to raise monies for school items. We’d found our short visit very pleasant and decided to pay the cay a more in depth visit. We sailed the short distance, entered the very small harbor entrance, found a mooring and settled in as best we can with 30 mph gusts over the deck. The harbor is small and the ride is smooth. Just a lot of swinging on the mooring.

The cay has the same quiet appeal that we’d found on Green Turtle Cay. And we are enjoying our exploring. But then, that’s the topic for the next journal entry.

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