When we arrived in March, we were the only Union Jack red ensign flag flying boat to be seen anchored off Athol Island in view of Fort Montague, although the British historical links to Nassau are everywhere.
As the capital “city” of the Bahamas, Nassau is actually on New Providence Island – a place we were comprehensively warned about by the quiet living country folk on other islands who had found the “crazy” pace of life here just too much. Seems like everyone in the Bahamas has either worked there or has left children, parents or husbands there to earn money in the honey pot. The economic contrast with most other islands is stark.
Our expectations were pretty low having also had assorted drama queens paint a picture of endless cruise ships disgorging and rampant tourist muggings.
Turns out you can avoid all that by parking up at the quieter eastern end and not shopping at the “I went to Nassau…” rum & T-shirt shop.
Sometimes sleeping on a boat is like the best kind of camping, that special feeling of almost sleeping outside and nature being very close.
If you like that feeling you will know it makes you sleep very contentedly, even if you do wake in the night with the noises of animals, rain or sloshing wavelets and changing sea breezes. If you don’t like that feeling…why on earth not?!
We awoke in the 3 mile long, picturesque natural harbour of Rock Sound, Eleuthera on a calm and sunny day.
A bit of a landmark day for me, being not only my late February birthday but the 1 year anniversary of giving up working for a living. I started a day of thankfulness for (probably) the best year of my life with a large papaya wiv’ a little candle stuck in it.
Our time in gorgeous, photogenic Calabash Bay was only 2 memorable nights, before we needed to truck on out in the good weather, to get up to Cat Island.
Every time we have a mammoth, wet, choppy dinghy ride or sweaty kayak trip to get ashore I am reminded how nice it would be to get in much closer. About 1/4 mile closer in fact.
New Bight at Cat Island was the perfect opportunity to give this a go. Several yachts – and a potty looking racing trimaran suitable for tiny people only – were already parked so close to the beach in this massive, shallow bay (bight: a curve or recess in a coastline, river or other geographical feature) that they could have swum ashore.
We steeled our nerves and put down the anchor in 5 feet of jade green water, knowing we could bump down on the sandy bottom if we had miscalculated how much the tide was going to drop. Catamarans don’t fall over – yay!
The view from our spot was picture perfect – the lush green Mount Alverina peaks at 206 feet above sea level and is the highest point in the whole of the Bahamas. On top is perched a dinky looking monastery with white roofs, which reminded us of somewhere else – Italy? Austria? Croatia?
Warning: This post is heavy on the lovely photos, simply because we have visited the most beautiful beach we have ever seen.
However, we had to go though a few trials and tribulations first so I hope this pic’ will keep you going until those are out of the way.
Clarence Town had been marvellous in many ways and was certainly a safe port in a storm. (You are allowed to use sailing clichés when you are actually sailing by the way. So many to choose from!! Anyway.)
“Where do you cook?” “How often do you wash?” “How do you get to land?” “What is the toilet like?!”
All excellent questions from friends and family, intrigued by how ordinary life stuff gets done when you live on a boat. And in case anyone didn’t know, we don’t have an actual house at the moment, so this is it. (Apart from when I take my washing back to Mum’s house 3 times a year but we’ll skip over that bit…)
After we left the sea turtles of Little Harbour, Long Island we sailed north to about half way up this long thin strip of land and into the wide roomy bay of Clarence Town.
Do you ever lie in bed thinking “The wind is going to change tomorrow. We had better move house”? No. That would be silly.
Keeping safe on a boat is so dependant on keeping ahead of the weather it’s boring frankly. When nasty looking bright green blobs appeared on the weather chart for four days hence, it meant “near gale” conditions, with 28-33 knots of wind were coming in.
I am always disappointed that the huge bang as they land – in the manner of dynamite fishing – does not result in a selection of stunned fish floating on the surface ready to be scooped into a frying pan.
Having been on Mayaguana Island, Bahamas for over a week we were itching to move on and to use the days before the bad weather arrived to get somewhere with more shelter. Assuming that neither of my readers are sailors, I will explain that it is much better if the wind is coming over land to slow it down before it gets to you. Also if the anchor gives way, you will get pushed out to sea not onto the land! Lesser of two evils there. Makes for light sleeping…
Travel mug of coffee, sat nav on – just like commuting on the M4 apart from the laundry
Our first overnight stop would be West Plana, one of a pair of uninhabited little Bahamian islands. Our cruising so far has been – wherever possible – in the quieter bits like the Bahamian “Outer Islands” which is how we like it. However, the idea of an actual uninhabited island gave me a bit of a nervy flutter, especially as I knew from our friend David there was no internet or phone coverage..
After 5 hours of pretty easy sailing we anchored off a long beach on the leeward side (land between us and the wind) of the island, in a sea that was like a rainbow made only of shades blue and green.
Arriving in the Bahamas felt like a pretty big deal. 700 coral islands set in spectacular seas, even more small cays – pronounced keys, as in Florida Keys. So much to see! Where to start?! Near the bottom turned out to be a good plan.
Mayaguana Island has an official “port of entry” for boats at Abrahams Bay. Check.
It is a small, natural, unspoiled, old school Bahamian island with a population of less than 300 people. Check.
It has a couple of good anchorages and some beautiful beaches. Check.
And that is about it…
The start of our overnight trip out of Sapodilla Bay was perfect sailing weather but it didn’t last. And the thing you should NEVER do when navigating into a shallow coral infested bay through a gap in the reef, is to do it in choppy weather – you won’t be able to see the gap or a thing below the surface of the water.
Amazing as it sounds, getting safely through many of these Bahamian waters relies on a pair of Polaroid sunglasses, an understanding of what dark blue, lighter blue, brownish blue and yellowish blue mean for what is underneath you and someone to stand on the front of the boat (me) shouting “port a bit” and “starboard a bit” back to the person on the wheel (L). Primitive I know!
“As he disappeared off the beach and through the bushes I did have a premonition of never seeing him again.. Oh what an adventure!”
Our plan B for choppy weather was to switch our arrival to Betsy Bay, a straight bit of coast round the other end of the island. Easy. However, we were nervous about arriving just before the weekend without doing the Customs and Immigration formalities – who knows what black marks might go on our record if we were caught that might affect the next places we visited…
Things look very different when you arrive by sea and that is surely a big part of the pleasure of sailing – not to pass through the roads, roundabouts and carparks before that first view.
Low cliffs and trees, framed by the aquamarine waters of Sapodilla Bay, and the luxury houses built to enjoy the best positions were our introduction to Providenciales Island in the Turks and Caicos.
Our dinghy parking and some prime real estate
We anchored in 6.5 feet of water over the clean sandy bottom of Sapodilla Bay, far enough away from the popular beach to lose any sound from the activities there of American holiday makers. More on that later…
Gaps between islands, or islands and reefs, look tiny on charts and when you get there they are huge!
Getting a better feel for the scale of stuff was an important part of our next trip going north from Culebra Island, Puerto Rico to Providenciales, a north-westerly island in the Turks & Caicos.
I had booked a flight from Providenciales airport via Miami to see my family in the UK for Christmas 2017. “Provo” as it’s known, was about 450 nautical miles away (bit longer than 450 miles), so with our boat being happy to trot along at 7 knots (bit more than 7 mph) we would be sailing for at least three days and nights, as long as the weather was middling as promised.
Harness; extra loud whistle; sunglasses; comfy cushion. All set.
Night sailing is kind of like the first time you drive on the motorway – sweaty palms with anticipation of what might go wrong and once you start you just have to keep going. We got the charts out and dredged up the January navigation classes from our brains, choosing the North Atlantic route over the top side of the Turks and Caicos, which we hoped would have less container vessels, oil tankers, cruise ships and other boats to avoid! It did look like a long way…
The moonlight calm of nights in Baia Almodova, Culebra Island off Puerto Rico was restoring spirits and ambition as hoped.
We didn’t always have the bay to ourselves and our favourite temporary “neighbours” were two local guys in a small motor boat who stayed for the weekend. Brothers, friends or lovers we were never sure but they sang together and pottered with a barbecue on the back rail of the boat. One lolled on a foam noodle in the water while the other snorkeled comically with a spear fishing gun in 18″ of water.