Monday, May 7, 2018

Island Time

We are anchored in Grace Bay, off the Seven Stars resort and just a hundred feet or so from where we anchored before we left for the bank (map).  While it's been blowing 20-25kt here more or less the entire time since we arrived, the water is calm and we have had a comfortable stay.

Our night off Bay Cay was uneventful, if a bit rock-and-roll. But we knew things there would just get worse as the winds continued to pick up out of the east and southeast. Thursday morning we weighed anchor right after coffee for the five-hour trip around the end of the island. Seas were behind us heading out "the funnel" and we had a good ride, and even the northbound leg was tolerable in the lee of the island.

Between the Sandbore Channel and Northwest Point we were in deep water, thousands of feet, and three miles offshore, so we elected to discharge our waste, in anticipation of being pinned down an unknown time in Grace Bay and the possibility of visitors. But when I went to start the macerator pump, it just made spinning noises and pumped nothing. Crap. At least we still had two thirds of our capacity available, so not an urgent problem.

Vector at anchor off the beach at Grace Bay, under a characteristic sunset.

As we rounded Northwest Point we found ourselves in fairly steep six-footers. Between the easterly fetch of the entire Atlantic and the rather steep slope of the shelf, huge amounts of energy were directed into a small area. But as we completed the turn and drove back off the shelf seas improved considerably, and just got better and better as we continued further into the lee of the bay.

Stubbs Cut was, in fact, calm, and we crossed the reef on autopilot, taking manual control through the more shallow coral field closer to shore. We didn't really notice the considerable swell until we dropped the hook. Still, it was not bad, and the swell only rolled us gently our first night in the anchorage. I think there was a bit more northerly component that first night.

A rainstorm followed us into the anchorage, and, in fact, I was tracking it on radar to make sure it would not catch us off guard. We got the hook set just before the heavens opened. The beach was uncharacteristically empty, with all the umbrellas folded up and even many of the lounge chairs at some resorts stacked and locked. We had a quiet dinner on board.

Empty beaches from our anchorage. It almost never looks like this.

Friday was our anniversary, and I joked that the traditional gift for 15 years is a macerator pump. I spent the day in the bilge swapping the failed pump out for the on-board spare, which in turn I had rebuilt after the last failure. It seems we get three years on a pump. I tested the installation with a coffee can full of clean salt water before making the final connection to the tank, and all is working again for when we next get offshore.

It was still a bit whipped up here in the bay when evening rolled around, and we decided we'd defer any kind of anniversary dinner ashore to an evening with better conditions. We left the tender on deck and had leftovers for dinner.

Saturday that particular piece of the storm had passed, and it was sunny and calm. Rain was in the forecast on and off, and instead of waiting for dinnertime, we seized the opportunity to get ashore while it was pleasant. We enjoyed a nice lunch on the patio at Solana, the beachfront restaurant at the Ocean Club resort next door.

Lunch at Solana. That's Vector center-frame, between the pillars.

Yesterday we spent most of the day getting the boat ready for guests. Louise has to first "convert" the forward stateroom from a quilting studio back to a guest stateroom. She wrote about the reverse process in this post (since then we have built a dedicated custom-fit table for the machine, also removable).  I have to make room for many of the conversion bits in the engine room, and then the room has to be cleaned and made up for guests. It's an all-day affair. We ended the day with unexpectedly good Mexican food at Skull Rock Cantina across the street at Ports of Call.

Speaking of Ports of Call, it is probably the least expensive resort here on Grace Bay, at $250 a night, owing to the fact that it has no beach frontage of its own. Instead, they cleverly located immediately across the street from one of the few public beach access points, shoehorned between Seven Stars and Ocean Club. They set up a stand on the beach end of the access where they supply their guests with beach chairs, umbrellas, and watersports items as needed; at 5pm they pack it all up and lock it in place.

Every resort along the beach also has a water sports stand, and neat rows of beach chairs serviced by uniformed staff. Beachfront resorts here start at $500 a night and go up from there, well into the $3,000 territory. It makes our $120 clearance fees and $300, 3-month cruising permit seem downright cheap. I have yet to find a stand that will supply water sports items, such as paddleboards or Hobie Cats, to people who arrive via the public access, which seems little-used. Jet skis are banned here in the National Park, so all the water sports items are sail or human powered.

Saturday we watched a wedding on the beach morph into a loud reception under a tent. After dark they put on a fireworks show. Unlike the US, there was no security zone and no patrol boats for these fireworks launched over the water. We were lucky to be a safe distance.

Other than the mostly destroyed pier that we're using to land the tender, and an intact pier a mile away that belongs to Club Med, there are no docks or piers here, yet boat tours of various kinds are ubiquitous. There are the parasailing boats, snorkel tours, and party boats that consist of a bar on the lower level, a sun deck on the upper level, and a pool slide from the upper level into the water.

Most of these boats come down from Turtle Cove Marina where we spent our first two weeks, and we saw them coming and going there with just their crews. I thought it odd at the time that every boat had its swim/boarding ladder attached to the bow, rather than the transom as is usual. Now I understand it: the way all of these boats load and unload their charges is by putting their bows up against the beach and then lowering their ladders.

All these boats come zooming by us on full plane, but it's not frequent enough to be a problem. Also the sailing snorkel tour boat from Beaches, on the next bay west, comes past us twice a day. We're always amused to hear the local accent calling "Beaches base" on the radio... I will leave it at that.

The Beaches cat passes close aboard.

In a short while I will take the tender ashore to meet our friend Amanda, who is flying out to spend a couple of days with us. Generally we have a standing offer with all our friends and family to come spend a few days on the boat any time, but the logistics and expense of flying someplace like the TCI or even the Bahamas on short notice make it impossible for most. Amanda has the luxury of flying here free on a space-available basis, and when we had to extend at least another week on account of the weather, our schedules aligned and she hopped on a flight.

The monstrous storm that has been hovering over the Bahamas (and here) for the last few days is finally moving on, and we're scanning for a weather window to make our way west. We need three days to make the hop from here to Great Inagua via West Caicos and Little Inagua. With a little luck we might leave as early as Thursday or Friday.

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