Monday, March 9, 2015

The Exumas

I am again typing under way, this time en route from Highborne Key, where we spent last night, to somewhere near Warderick Wells in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. I'm happy to have good Internet coverage here, so I can catch you up on the last few days. Steph has also just posted about our last few days, with photos, including a nice shot of Vector.

Shortly after I last posted here, at sea off Great Abaco, our coverage faded away. Before the end of my watch, the enormous Holland America cruise ship Zuiderdam passed just three miles ahead of us. Two more cruise ships passed behind us on Louise's watch; the Providence Channels are something of a cruise ship super highway for voyages originating in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. I was a bit wistful as I watched it go by; it's been a long time since we took a big-ship cruise. At three miles it was easy to see the well-lit ship in all its splendor (but still impossible to photograph).

Hope Town Light from sea, with a rain storm behind it.

I neglected to mention in my last post that a storm was moving in as we left Man-o-War. That made for an interesting photo of the iconic Hope Town lighthouse from sea, with the storm behind it and the beginnings of sunset. Sunset itself was also quite spectacular over the island.

Fiery sunset over Great Abaco Island, with storm clouds above.

We had quite a favorable current once in the Northeast Providence Channel, and ended up with an early arrival to New Providence. When I came upstairs after my four hours of sleep, I throttled back a little to delay our arrival a bit -- it's too hard to read the bottom with the sun too low in the sky.

We dropped the hook in 20 feet or so in the Southwest Bay (map), maybe a quarter mile from a beautiful expedition yacht, Seawolf, that had started its life as an ocean tug. We were so tired that I did not think to snap any photos of it or our anchorage, near the entrance channel to a high-end resort marina.

Saturday was something of a lost day, as we all spent most of the day recovering from the wonky sleep schedule of an overnight passage. We were at least able to suck in some WiFi from a nearby facility, and while I was not coherent enough to blog or email, I caught up on my Facebook feed and loaded lots of things that we generally won't load on our limited pay-as-you-go cellular connection.

With no plans to go ashore at New Providence, we weighed anchor early yesterday for the long day's run to Highborne Cay. There was actually quite a bit of chop on the bank, and it was something of a bouncy ride. I was amazed that we had BTC voice and data coverage for the whole trip; I learned late in the day that Blossom's coverage ended an hour out of New Providence. Our cellular amp, which disappoints me regularly on Sprint's CDMA frequencies in the US, has been fantastic here on BaTelCo's GSM channels.

Driving through a squall. You can see it on the radar set at lower left of photo.

The rough day culminated in running right through a squall on our way in to Highborne.  It showed clearly on the radar set, though, and it looked like we'd be through it before dropping anchor. When we finally emerged on the other side we had a beautiful sunny afternoon, and the lee of the cay made for calm water. Lots of boats in the anchorage, including the superyacht Lady S.

Approaching Highborne, now in beautiful weather. Large yacht to the right is Lady S. Blossom is the white dot against the distant hill, about in line with our starboard gunwale.

Blossom arrived twenty minutes ahead of us, using their greater speed, to scope out the anchorage and water depths. By the time we were anchored nearby (map), they had their tender down (now working after re-priming the fuel system), and after sundowners aboard Vector we all rode over to the marina for dinner at Xuma, the nice restaurant there. The food was excellent and the grounds are nicely kept. A group of nurse sharks hangs out at the end of the dock, and they were easy to see in the crystal clear water.  I am sorry I did not get a photo.

Blossom anchored at Highborne Cay.

This morning we had a hard decision to make. Louise has a non-refundable ticket to fly to California next week, out of Georgetown. Frankly, I'd be going with her, if not for the fact that leaving the boat and the cat in the Bahamas without us for a week is a logistical nightmare.

In hindsight, Georgetown might not have been the best choice for an originating airport. But with imperfect information, we had to put a pin in the map someplace. I did not want to spend a week anchored alone in Nassau, and there are really only a couple other airports in all of the Bahamas with through-booked connections to get to California. The small airstrips that dot the islands do have service, but it's about $600 or so just to fly round trip to Miami or Fort Lauderdale, on top of whatever flights she'd have to get from one of those airports. In contrast, she paid about that much for her entire round trip out of Georgetown. (She does, though, have an overnight layover in Fort Lauderdale, necessitating another hotel room.)

Given that, and knowing we'd ultimately be cruising the Exumas, it seemed like the right choice at the time. Now, however, we're still quite a ways from there, just a week away from her flight. That means we need to keep moving closer each day, and we'll probably have to slog through four to six foot seas in the Exuma Sound for the last leg (Elizabeth Harbour in Georgetown is not accessible from the bank side of the island).

Martin and Steph are not keen on going out into the sound in those conditions, and are looking instead at a weather window next Tuesday for more moderate seas.  By the time those roll around, Louise will already be on her flight. With thus a full week to get to Galliot Cut, they opted to spend a couple more days in the very protected anchorage at Highborne to wait out some wind before moving south a bit more slowly than us.

A very happy couple, in the tender leaving Man-O-War harbor. (Before the fuel ran out.)

And so it is that we said our goodbyes over the VHF this morning and pressed on alone, leaving Blossom in Highborne Cay with our new neighbor, Chasing Daylight, who dropped the hook right behind us this morning. We were amused to see them do exactly what we have to do to attach our snubber -- blindly stick an arm out through a forward hawse-hole. Now we can tell people who think it strange that it's "a big-boat thing."

This superyacht dropped the hook just a hundred yards from us. We liked their anchor technique.

We'll continue on to Georgetown on our own. While that does give us more flexibility in anchorages and routes, we'll miss them, and also the comfort of having the resources of a whole separate boat nearby in case of problems. With luck, it will be short-lived, and they will catch up with me in Georgetown by next Wednesday.

Update: while in the middle of typing all this, our Internet finally quit about ten miles out of Warderick Wells.  I had to set this post aside until we finished our day; we are now anchored just a quarter mile from Emerald Rock, on the south side of Warderick Wells Cay (map). We came in as close as our draft would permit, and dropped the hook in eight feet of water.

Once here I was able to fiddle with the phone and get intermittent Edge (lower-speed) connectivity, so I can finish getting this post up. I'm glad I loaded all the photos above while we still had a high-speed connection, but I can't upload any photos from here. I'm sure we'll be back in higher-speed coverage somewhere later on, at least in Georgetown if not sooner.

Right after we got the hook set, we realized we had anchored just 50 yards or so from a beautiful ketch we had seen at the yard in Deltaville, Jancris, which hails from Venice, Italy. They had friends aboard, but we did exchange greetings, and we'll send them a nice photo we took of their boat against the sunset.

If the weather is pleasant in the morning we might splash the tender and go ashore.  Park Headquarters is here on the island, and a hill with a lovely view. There is not much else, though, not even a rest room -- it's not unlike the Dry Tortugas in that respect. It will be a short visit, because we want to get back under way and end up somewhere near Staniel Cay tomorrow night.

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