Monday, February 26, 2024


We are under way across the Northwest Providence Channel, with the Berry Islands receding behind us, and the Egg islands, northwest of Eleuthera, some five hours ahead of us on this heading. My chart says we are in 7,000' of water; the depth sounder only works down to 300' or so. Seas are relatively calm in a gentle breeze, but we very nearly turned around at 7am when the winds were higher than forecast. Fortunately they've settled a bit since our departure.

Sunrise this morning on our way out of the Great Harbour. Stirrup Cay at left, Great Harbour Cay at right.

The morning following my last post we found the forecast favorable for a two-day crossing of the bank, and we tendered back ashore for a final walk around the resort before departure. We needed to wait for a positive and rising tide before leaving the anchorage. The resort is in a perpetual state of unfinished construction, even as the older infrastructure is falling into disrepair; the massive marina pool and entertainment complex is closed altogether for a very slow refurbishing, and most of the ownership marina slips are empty.

We had lots of company crossing from Key Biscayne to Bimini. Yes, we are crabbing that much in the gulf stream.

I snapped this shot of Brown's Marina on our way into Bimini. Good memories there with our friend John.

Departing the Bimini Big Game Club in the tender after clearing in. If you zoom in you can see Vector in the distance just to the right of the big yacht. She is two miles away.

 We decked the tender and left our anchorage on a rising tide to make our way out of Bimini. The sounder read just seven and a half feet as we crossed the bar, turning north into the stream. Passing Paradise Point we were less than a mile from where we had anchored but it had taken us two and a half hours to get there.

"Slip repossessed." The state of affairs at Resort World Bimini.

Sunset beyond the Hilton, the nicest part of the Resort Wold complex.

After rounding North Rock we set a course for Bullock's Harbour on Great Harbour Cay, in the Berry Islands. Our Starlink terminal lost service a couple of hours later, but before it did I was able to reach the Great Harbour Cay Marina and reserve a slip; the protected anchorage in the harbor is minuscule and we simple could not bank on finding a spot there.

"Please use your Starlink on land..."

Near the halfway mark we diverted a few miles south to anchor on the northern reaches of the Mackie Shoal (map). We had a very rolly night, and really for naught. Yachts of various sizes as well as several mail boats (small inter-island freighters) passed us all night long as they criss-crossed the bank, and next time we need to do this we'll just leave at sunset and go overnight. We did have a nice sunset and a relaxing dinner on board, and with no Internet we both turned in early.

Freighters, aka mail boats, like this one passed us all night long.

Sunset over the bank. Always an eerie feeling with uninterrupted water all 360° of the horizon.

Sunday we weighed anchor just as soon as we finished our first cup of coffee. Our Starlink started working again a couple of hours outside the harbor, and we were making our way through the narrow land cut at high tide by 2pm. By 2:30 we were tied to the dock (map) and getting the lay of the land. The marina is in good shape by Bahamian standards, and with a reasonable rate that becomes even more so on a weekly or monthly basis. With no weather windows to get anyplace else in the next few days, we opted to ask for a week.

I plotted our loss/acquisition of Starlink on the chart for future reference with this pair of cyan waypoints.

I spent most of the first two days of our stay working on the watermaker, which had refused to make any water on our way to Bimini or on our way across the bank. I ran another batch of cleaning chemicals through it and recalibrated the salinity probe using my handheld meter, and I double-checked that we had good pressure and no air in the feed lines. When I was all done it was making water that met minimum drinking standards, but by no means great water at over 500ppm of total dissolved solids (TDS). We ran it for a couple of hours in the harbor and called it good enough before shutting it down to preserve the filters.

The view of the marina from our flybridge.

We most likely need a new membrane, although we can't rule out a problem with the Clark pump. When I was not working on the system, I was instead surfing the Internet trying to source a membrane that we could pick up in the Bahamas for a reasonable price. Thus far I have come up empty. If we can't eek out enough acceptable water from the system when we start to run low, we'll have to buy what we need. The marina would have sold us water for $0.50 per gallon, but that's on the higher end of water pricing in the islands. They did give us as much non-potable wash water as we needed, and Louise used the marina washing machines to do a couple of large loads at $5 each. We used our own dryer; even at the marina rate of $0.75/kWh, it was cheaper than the coin machines.

We rode around the long-abandoned and now overgrown vehicle turn-around at the north end of the island.

There is nothing at all, really, in walking distance of the marina. They did have bicycles available for guest use, and someone was renting motor scooters. Seeing the rental scooters, I asked in the office if it would be a problem to use our own (we had been told once in Bimini that it was not permitted), and they assured us it would not be. So we offloaded them and went on a little tour of the island, riding literally every paved road to its end.

The view out over the Great Harbour from a spot near the north end. You can see the cruise ship docked at CoCo Cay. Our former and future anchorage is to the right near the tower.

There is one settlement on the island, Bullock's Harbor, a couple of miles from the marina by road. The government dock is here, where the supply boat lands, along with a couple of churches and some recreation facilities for the locals. A general store for groceries, a small hardware store, a liquor store, a bar, and one restaurant round out the offerings in town.

The southernmost end of the road, where it turned to soft sand, looking out over the ocean side.

Elsewhere on the island is a small airstrip, and along the coast are homes varying from palatial down to beach bungalow that belong predominantly to foreigners, mostly Americans. The reason there is anything here at all, apart from the original settlement at Bullock's Harbor, is owing to an enormous failed resort development that wrested the fortunes of the island from the drug cartels that had been using it as a stopover.

Entrance to the old clubhouse. We ascended the stairs at the back.

Back in the late 60s and early 70s, developers bought most of the island and sank $38 million into building a resort, over $300m in today's dollars. The marina where we were staying was hewn out of bedrock and a channel cut through to the sea, and a championship 18-hole golf course was blazed through the Bahamian scrub, with luxurious paved cart paths and well-manicured fairways. An immense clubhouse with sweeping vistas and a massive pool deck sat at the apex of the course, connected to the marina by a walking path. A "beach club" bar was erected on the ocean side adjacent to the airstrip. It was all very high end, and the rich and famous were enticed to buy ocean-front, bay-front, or golf course lots and build nice homes to suit.

As seen from the pool deck. The pool is less inviting now.

Like many plans to build high-end resort properties in the Bahamas, the effort was doomed by overwhelming logistical challenges and miscalculation of the difficulty in running a western first-world establishment by imposing an American value system on a country that runs on island time. The development changed hands several times and eventually just stopped, leaving the homeowners holding the bag. The rich and famous have long since cut their losses and moved on, and the nice homes that still stand after the storms that ravage the island periodically now belong mostly to Americans of more modest means, who can live or vacation without the first-world amenities of golf courses, country clubs, or even a decent restaurant serving international or American fare.

We stopped at the New Beach Club for a beer and fries. It was the busiest place on the island. They close at 4 so it's not a dinner option.

The marina hangs on because it was built like the proverbial brick house, with concrete docks. And the bones of the old clubhouse are still intact, though the wood roof has caved in, and exploring the ruins is even listed on the island's web site as one of the handful of activities here. What's left of the beach club has re-opened as The New Beach Club, a beach bar and burger shack that also caters to cruisers anchored in the nearby bay.

Coming back from a walk we spotted this pair of manatees in the marina.

While we continued to wait on good travel weather I continued to knock out projects. A whole day was given over to the tender, where I replaced the wiring to the navigation lights and installed the new steering cable I bought back in the states. This latter project involved much swearing, as the original outfitter did not install the helm at the correct angle, and the new cable had to be coaxed into place with much effort and way more tools than I expected to use for the project. I also got the snaps installed for the saloon window covers, breaking a tap in the process

Nothing like the sinking feeling of breaking the end of your tap off in the aluminum under your brand new paint job. It took me an hour to worry it out.

The end result, as best I could capture around the fashion plate. Just a re-do of the original installation in 2016, necessitated by the painting.

We mostly ate our own food aboard with three notable exceptions. Friday night was the weekly "grill and chill" at the marina pavilion, where you order barbecue ahead of time and free rum punch is provided. Some local ex-pats provided live music and we got the chance to meet a few of our neighbors. One night we rode into town for dinner at Coolie Mae's, pretty much the lone sit-down place on the island. And Saturday is pizza night at the marina, where you place your order in the morning and you pick it up at dinner time from a couple of Bahamians who bake them in the kitchen of what's left of the even more exclusive private club, long shuttered, on the marina property. Mediocre pizza for 30 bucks, but it's the only game in town. We had opted out of the weekly marina pot luck, which was probably the most social evening, but we generally do not care for pot-luck dinners.

Coolie Mae's. We were the only patrons at the sunset hour.

It was too chilly and buggy to eat on the deck but I stepped outside to get this sunset photo.

As luck would have it, a weather window coincided with our one-week mark, and yesterday we dropped lines just before the tide dropped to an uncomfortable level for the skinny parts of the channel, after lunch. Louise started the dinner before lunch, whereupon we discovered that the supposedly sealed package of chicken we had thawing in the fridge was not sealed, and it leaked all over the inside of the fridge, ruining the next month's worth of fresh romaine. Oh well. Fortunately it was discovered while we were still at the dock where we could offload the mess and use some free water for the cleanup. The marina assessed a 5% surcharge for using a credit card when we checked out, which we just paid because finding more cash in the Bahamas can be daunting.

Sunset beyond Stirrup and Little Stirrup Cays, quiet after the cruise ships departed, as seen from our anchorage in Great Harbour.

Getting over the shoals before low tide put us on the edge of the bank before the deepwater seas had laid down, and we bashed our way off the bank and around the west end of Little Stirrup Cay, or as its owner Royal Caribbean Cruises calls it, CoCo Cay. They've built a pier for two mega cruise ships here since our last visit, which was fully occupied as we passed, and the island was packed. Stirrup Cay a little further east and belonging to Norwegian Cruise Lines, was empty, with no ships in the anchorage.

A short while later we had a spectacular moonrise over the harbor entrance.

We curled all the way around Stirrup Cay and into the Great Harbour, where we anchored a few years ago, and tucked as far into the lee as we could get for the night (map). We had a quiet night, save for the hum of the island generator, with just a little bit of roll. This morning we weighed anchor at dawn, leaving the harbor before the enormous Norwegian Epic began disgorging its passengers ashore via tender. The last time we were here, we were buzzed by rental jet skis throughout the day.

Once we left the harbor entrance this morning we could see Norwegian Epic freshly anchored on the deep side.

As I wrap up typing we are offline again, service having cut out a dozen or so miles from Great Harbour Cay. We now have 13,000' under our keel, and the plotter is projecting an arrival  little after 4pm. I expect we'll get our Internet back a bit sooner than that and I will upload the post.

Gratuitous shot of the famed water from our ride around the island.

Update: We are anchored in Royal Island harbor (map), a natural protected harbor within the eponymous island. The island itself is private, home to an on-again, off-again exclusive resort development -- no one ever learns that lesson here. The Starlink came back online too close to land for me to get all the photos squared away before I had to quit to navigate through the cuts. If all goes well, tomorrow at high tide we will make our way to Spanish Wells, another stop we've not previously made. After that, things are a bit unclear, and will depend largely on the weather. The forecast right now is calling for trade winds, so perhaps when we are done there we will work our way south along the west coast of Eleuthera.


  1. We’ve never stayed in Spanish Wells, but going through the cut into the Devil’s Backbone is really beautiful when the sun is up high and the water is calm. There used to be a massive no wake sign that played off the turquoise water so strikingly. Don’t know if it’s still there. Hope the weather is good for you!

  2. I think the failed resort might be the Tamboo Club, which was a swank resort for cafe society crowd for a number of years. So many Bahamian resorts fail -- Cotton Bay, French Leave, and a huge development started on Grand Bahama by Bobby Ginn.


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