Let The Sun Shine In!
As Lisa and I waited at Green Turtle Marina for the winds to die down and the waves to stop breaking in the Whale Cay Channel, an Albin trawler safely docks just a few slips down from us, while gale-force winds are blowing. Later that day we hear the story firsthand, about their experience as they transited the “Whale” while heading north. Just after they turned to port to head from the ocean and into the cut, a rogue, 10-foot breaking wave lifted the stern of their boat out of the water, they lost rudder control, the boat turned sideways and broached far enough over that water came in through the windows. Another wave crashed in bringing them back up and over to their port side and they took on even more water. They struggled to gain control as debris flew throughout the cabin. But fortunately the rudder finally grabbed and they slipped through the cut and into the safety of calmer water.
Kismet safely docked at Sea Spray Marina after our trip through the Whale. Just over the bluff is 2,500 miles of wide-open Atlantic Ocean.
Respect! Lisa and I never underestimate the power of Mother Nature when it comes to cruising, we always take the necessary precautions, especially relating to weather and its effect on large bodies of water. Just south of Green Turtle Cay lays the Whale Cay Channel where boaters need to take extra precautions. It’s at the “Whale” where boaters have to leave the relative safety of the Sea of Abacos and head into the ocean if they wish to travel further south in the Abacos. So, if you’re heading south, as we are, you navigate east through a narrow reef out into the shallows of the Atlantic Ocean, making a 90-degree turn to starboard and continue three miles to the lee of Great Guana Cay. As our fellow boaters reported, even under the best of circumstances, this is no piece of cake.
|Postcard-perfect Hopetown harbor with its signature, candy-stripped, lighthouse as a backdrop.|
With weather conditions forecast to be favorable, we headed out early on a Sunday, after spending four wonderful days in Green Turtle Cay. Our caravan of boats included a 55-foot Marlow, a 45-foot Cherubini, our friends on Freedom’s Turn and ourselves. By default we took the lead, having been the only one of the group to travel these waters before. While not exactly experts, at least we were familiar with the route.
As we approached the Whale, waves were gentle two-foot rollers with no breaking waves in sight. Once out past the reef, the rollers increased to a three- and four-foot area, still gentle and very manageable. We made a 90-degree turn to starboard for the final three-mile stretch, while breathing a sigh of relief, as the conditions presented no surprises for us. When we reached the lee of Great Guana Cay, the Sea of Abaco welcomed us back in with calm, turquoise waters and a cloudless, sunny sky. We were glad to have this potential dangerous passage behind us, with no surprise rougue 10-footers. Now it’s time to really relax!
Sea Spray Marina, in White Sound on Elbow Cay, is our home for four weeks. Sea Spray is only three miles south of Hope Town, the island’s city center. Hope Town is easily reached by dinghy or walking; or the friendly staff at the marina will, with short notice, give us a lift. Due to our advance planning we are centrally located on Elbow Cay so that we can take day trips to Treasure Cay, Great Guana Cay, Nippers, Man-O-War Cay, Marsh Harbour, Lubbers Quarters, Cracker P’s, Tahiti Beach, Tilloo Cay, Little Harbor or just go fishing and snorkeling. Our biggest decision ahead of us would be what to do first.
|Meeting up with Looper friends who are enjoying the Sea of Abaco in a rental boat.|
Once Junior, Sea Spray’s Manager, and dockhand Rodney, helped us get settled into the marina and we got the lay of the land, it was time to head into Hope Town. Like the other Abaco Islands, Hope Town was founded by loyalists in 1785 and still maintains the appeal of a small village community. Sandy ocean-side beaches, a picturesque candy-stripped lighthouse that overlooks a very well protected harbor along with the charming colorful small homes make this one of the most desired cruising destinations in the Bahamas. Because there’s no airport on Elbow Cay everything and everyone comes by boat; and this includes all food, building supplies, many workers, residents, tourists, and cruisers such as Lisa and me. Also, because the island is only five miles long with very narrow streets, the majority of transportation is by electric or gas golf carts or bikes.
On our first full day on Elbow Cay we decided to walk into town for a little exercise and an opportunity to re-acquaint ourselves with an island we fell in love with on our first Loop. The narrow road that leads into town snakes its way along the top of a bluff close to the marina. From here we had a view of both the waves crashing on the ocean side and the calmness of the Sea of Abaco on the other as we trek the three miles into town. Lisa and I visited Vernon’s for some homemade bread, had lunch on the deck of Captain Jack’s overlooking the harbor, and stopped into the bank to withdraw some Bahamian money. You know you’re in the Abacos when the bank sign shows their hours as only open on Tuesday from 10 until 2 p.m. This gives a whole new meaning to banker’s hours!
|With no ATM machines on the island and limited banking hours, Tuesdays are a busy day at the bank in Hopetown|
Because of Sea Spray’s close proximity to surrounding areas of interest, we were able use our dinghy for day excursions. We dinghyed into Hope Town for the Volunteer Fireman’s Fundraiser and ran into fellow Loopers from Good News, Salvage Crew, and Night Star. They’re all docked in Marsh Harbour longer term but were out island hopping when we ran into them in Hope Town. We’d last seen most of them at the America’s Great Loop Cruiser’s Association’s Rendezvous in Alabama last fall. On the way back to the marina we were dinghying in water that was three to four feet in depth with a sandy bottom, when Lisa spotted a manta ray. We got close enough to see the flap of its wings before it darted away to more protected waters.
|This boat was purposely set on fire for a demonstration during the Fireman’s Fundraiser.|
Included with the $300 fee we paid to clear Bahamian Customs are fishing licenses, so naturally I wanted to maximize my investment. Keep in mind that I’m not much of a fisherman and have only recently bought enough gear to give it a try. With that said Charlie from Freedom’s Turn, and I headed out to Tilloo Cut for a fishing adventure. We decided to use the shrimp I’d picked up in Hope Town for our bait. With hooks baited we cast away, not knowing what to expect. Charlie got a grey snapper right away but lost it as he was reeling it in. He then caught a multi-colored fish that neither of us could identify, so we released it. Then I caught one that we threw back because it looked like an eel.
Now, fast forward a few days to when I see a photograph of a little girl holding her prize fishing catch. It’s the same multicolored fish Charlie had caught. I ask the clerk in the store where the picture is hung, “What kind of fish is that?” He says it’s a triggerfish, one of the best eating fish and hard to catch. So because of fishing illiteracy we had thrown back a great catch. Live and learn.
|Charlie and I leaving on one of our fishing expeditions. It’s a good thing we were not relying on what we caught to survive!|
After being tied up to the dock for two weeks, Lisa and I decided it was time venture out to do some exploring. We idled the seven miles north, past Hope Town to Man-O-War Cay and into their well-protected, natural harbor. Once secure to a mooring ball we dinghyed ashore to walk the island, get lunch, and try to absorb the ambience of this beautiful place. Smaller than Hope Town but just as quaint, one can walk from the harbor to the ocean side of the island in less than five minutes. After lunch we went for a walk, and along the way it really hit home that we were on an island without a lot of pretence. The town cemetery sits just behind a small bluff leading to the ocean-side beach. We also spotted a local baseball field in this same area. One of the best small-town surprises was Lola, the local bread baker, who came zipping by on her electric cart stopping everyone in her path to sell her freshly baked raisin bread and cinnamon rolls. The town is a “dry” island and has a Mayberry type feeling to it. I think we’ll be returning.
|The entrance channel to Man-O-War is very narrow and shallow and best if made on a rising tide.||This ocean side cemetery is the resting place of many Man-O-War’s deceased. Note the breaking waves off in the distance.|
The weather here has been windy but nice, especially when compared to the cold winter our family has endured in Michigan. So when I say that two weeks into our stay here we’ve finally got the type of Island weather we expected please don’t take offense. Only a slight breeze 80 degrees, and calm water in the Sea of Abaco is what we’d been waiting for. With this perfect blend of conditions we decided it was time to take a big dinghy excursion across the Sea of Abaco. We left at 9 a.m. with friends, Charlie and Linda, to spend the day in the bigger city of Marsh Harbour.
The Sea of Abaco was as calm as a sleeping puppy after a long belly rub. After a four-mile run over the sandy, starfish-studded sea floor we arrived at Boat Harbor Marina and tied up next to Jim and Joanie Elliot’s boat Christine. Jim and Joanie are fellow Loopers from Toledo, Ohio, who’ve been living aboard for the past two years with no definitive plans to retire from their present lifestyle on the water any time soon. After a short visit, we headed into the city of Marsh Harbour to explore, visit the bank, grocery, liquor, and hardware stores, and the well known used-book store Buck-A-Book. Marsh Harbour has all the conveniences of a larger city making our visit there an interesting diversion from the remoteness we experience in White Sound of Elbow Cay. However, if given a choice, we prefer the laid-back lifestyle of the more remote islands such as Elbow Cay and Man-O-War.
|I think these sharks were just as surprised as we were when we came across them in four feet of water.|
After our day in the big city we decided to take advantage of the exceptional calm-water. We lingered as we made our way back to Sea Spray in the dinghy by exploring the marine life with a viewing bucket. Because the general water depth ranges from three to seven feet, the water is crystal clear and the bottom is mostly white and sandy, making sea creatures easier to spot. As we were crossing a sand bank I spotted two huge nurse sharks swimming off in the distance, so naturally we had to get closer for a better look. We’d get just close enough to snap a photo and they’d dart off. We’d chase them a little further and off they’d go again. I’ve been told they’re not dangerous, but it’s probably not a good idea running around after them in an inflatable dinghy while standing to better see them. Flying fish, starfish, and a few rays were also spotted on our little dinghy romp.
|Kismet resting comfortably on a mooring ball in Man-O-War’s harbor.|
By the time we made it back to Kismet it had been a seven-hour, fun packed day. It reminded me of when I was a young boy leaving the house on a summer’s day first thing in the morning, playing all day with friends and not returning home until dinner. It was fun then, but now I can cherish the experience when I, and my partner in life and adventure, can play all day as kids and return home to relax, as adults.
|After a hard day of playing it’s time to kick back and enjoy the sunset!|