Dont Worry, Be Happy
Lisa and I fall asleep and awake each day to the gentle crashing of the ocean waves, just over the sandy bluff from our slip in Sea Spray Marina on Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands. As I awoke to this soothing sound just before sunrise the second morning after our arrival, I gently slipped out of bed and quietly exited the boat, so Lisa could sleep in. (I know, what a guy.) I walked the 200 feet up to the top of the sandy hill that separates our boat from the ocean. It’s 6:30 in the morning as I watched the start of the sunrise and witnessed the power of Mother Nature bringing one cresting wave after another against the shore of our home for a month in this Abaco Island paradise. With all there is to worry about in the world I feel very fortunate to be in this remote corner of the Bahamas.
As a reference point the Abaco Islands are the northernmost islands of the Bahamas, located about 120 miles east of Palm Beach Florida in the Sea of Abaco. The most popular route, the one we took to reach the Bahamas, was traveling with the Gulf Stream from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to the West End of Grand Bahama Island, an 80-nautical-mile trip.
It’s always nice to relax our tried bones in a nice pool after a long travel day, this one’s at Old Bahama Bay Resort.
Our journey to reach the Abaco Islands started when we left Key West on February 2nd. Traveling our usual eight knots, and with reasonable weather, we should’ve been able to reach our destination by February 8. However, we didn’t arrive until February 14. High winds kept us in port for eight extra days along the way. We made good use of the down time when we spent six extra days at Sombrero Dockside Marina in Marathon visiting friends we’d first met at our homeport of Charlevoix last summer, just before we departed on our Loop.
Each day I’d awake and listen to NOAA for the Florida Bay weather report, looking for a good weather window so we could move up the Florida Keys, past Miami and into Fort Lauderdale, a three-day trip. At the same time I’d check our onboard XM Satellite Weather to check the Atlantic Ocean Gulf Stream conditions. I’d check for wind speed and direction mostly as these are the two main ingredients that can cause a crossing to be like a Dr. Jekyll or a Mr. Hyde.
Ideally you don’t want to have wind out of any northern quadrant and preferably none for a least the prior 24 hours. The reason is simple. The Gulf Stream moves from south to north at a couple of knots and when combined with northerly winds, conditions can get pretty ugly. Pretty ugly means larger waves then any boater ever wants to negotiate. Conversely, if you have mild five-knot winds from the south it helps to lay the ocean waters down, making for a comfortable ride. Waiting for these conditions to present themselves in the winter months can try ones patience. From the time we left Key West our eventual window didn’t open up for 12 days.
After cancelling our Plan A day, which just happened to be Friday the 13th, due to a shift in the winds, we decided on Plan B, which was Saturday, February 14th, Valentine’s Day. We woke in the cover of darkness at 5:15 a.m., cast off by 6:00 a.m. and worked our way out of the New River in relative darkness. The New River is fairly narrow, with many boats docked along each side, there are several bridges to pass under, and the river meanders about two miles back to the ICW. We had very little light as we made our way, and everything was going fine until we came to the last 90-degree bend in the river. When all of a sudden Lisa states very firmly, “THERE’S A GREEN MARKER ON OUR PORT SIDE!” Thanks to her sharp co-piloting she saved our butt. I slipped the transmission lever into neutral and then hard into reverse just in time to narrowly escape disaster. After our near mishap I repositioned the boat and left the green marker unscathed to starboard as we continued out into the ICW, the Port Everglade Channel, and finally into the ocean.
I remember as a child the excitement and anticipation I felt on Christmas morning before opening up gifts, hoping I’d receive that one special gift I’d wanted. That’s how we felt as we were leaving the protected inland waters for the wide-open Atlantic Ocean, Gulf Stream crossing to the West End in the Bahamas. Would the winds still be calm, out of the south, waves two feet or less as predicted? These questions borne of anxiety were soon put to rest as we inched our way northeast out into the ocean. Mother Nature was kind to us and the weather was as predicted with gentle two-foot rollers and a slight breeze out of the south. Our patience while waiting for proper weather conditions paid off with a good crossing. We were rewarded with a comfortable eight-and-a-half hour, 80-mile run instead of a jaw grinding, gut wrenching, and mind-numbing experience.
The Old Bahama Bay Marina & Resort was a welcome sight after being without the sight of land for better part of six hours. Lisa really likes this place, so we decided to spend two nights here, celebrate Valentines Day, swim in the pool, and just enjoy the beauty this first-class marina has to offer. As we were enjoying the amenities, we watched, read, and listened to the weather several times a day to determine when we could safely leave to continue our trek through the Abacos. As it turned out, due to extremely high winds, Lisa got to enjoy one extra day at Old Bahama Bay before we could depart and head east over the Little Bahama Bank.
When leaving the well-protected harbor of Old Bahama Bay Marina, we headed back out into the shallows of the ocean, headed north for only a mile before we threaded our way between the exposed rocks of Indian Rock and Wood Cay and onto the Banks. The entrance is narrow, not marked and six-feet deep at low tide, so our anxiety was high. Safely onto the Bank we headed west 45 miles to the uninhabited island called Great Sale Cay. The water was crystal clear, six to 14-feet deep, with a white sandy bottom most of the way. We arrived at Great Sale Cay with plenty of daylight left to help us get situated into our well-protected anchorage. The water is so clear there we could follow our chain rode all the way out to our set anchor, 80-feet in front of our bow.
One of the highlights of being anchored next to a secluded island in the middle of the Little Bahama Bank is the sunset displayed on an endless horizon. Another treat presents itself long after dusk, with no artificial lighting, and with a clear dark sky the stars seem to be at your fingertips. We were not disappointed, as the constellations were as bright and recognizable as at any time we’d ever witnessed them before. The handle of the Big Dipper appeared to be balancing itself on the shore of the island as if Mother Nature made it into an art sculpture. Lisa and I had dinner on the back deck as we took everything in, what a great way to spend a peaceful night.
When we left the West End we knew we only had a two- or three-day window to get tucked safely into port before gale-force winds would again make their appearance. Lisa and I on Kismet, and Charlie and Linda on Freedom’s Turn, got up early and departed for a 69-mile run into the Sea of Abaco and Green Turtle Cay. We decided to take a mooring ball in Black Sound for the night and visit Pineapples Bar to celebrate our arrival into yet another island in the Abacos. Two rum drinks here and its goodnight for me. Because we did not have access to any weather reports while here we decided to unhitch our line from the mooring ball early the next morning and motor the short distance over to White Sound and secure ourselves at the Green Turtle Club Marina before the winds kicked up. We were happy to be tied up at dock when the winds picked up strength an hour later and seemed to never let up for two straight days.
Green Turtle Club Marina was our home for three days as we waited for the wind to die down. February is considered the off-season in the Bahamas therefore some marinas have specials on dockage. Green Turtle had the most unique offer in that we got to eat in their restaurant for free up to the amount we paid for dock space per day. So besides being securely tied up during the blow, our tummies were full and our galley was clean. Now that’s what I call a good deal.
We occupied our time here with a few walking and dinghy trips into the little town of New Plymouth. A quant little town, New Plymouth is over 200 years old it was first settled by American colonists who were loyal to the British cause at the outbreak of the American Revolution. They came for safety and to escape the patriot cause. While in New Plymouth we went to the Stranded Naked cookout and fundraiser for the local fire department, a good way to immerse ourselves into the local culture. We had to also visit Bodie at the local seafood store, to buy lobster and of course we had to stop by Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar to sample the Goombay Smash, a rum concoction that can sneak up on you if you’re not careful.
From a cruisers perspective the 25 miles from Green Turtle Cay south are considered the heart of the Abaco Islands. With no cell service, limited internet and only 25 miles to explore we shouldn’t have many worries and hopefully only happiness. Lisa and I are both fortunate and thrilled to be here for the next six weeks and hope you’ll check back to read about where and what we’ve experienced in the coming weeks.