Sail away to the Abacos with Shamal’s Adventures

Tuesday 15th December. Marks new crew member, Sally, arrived yesterday. We have done the laundry and stocked up at the supermarket. Our phone has been topped up so we can down load weather reports and keep in contact with the family, and, for Alec – the news of the world, so we are ready to leave Marsh Harbour. It has been nice to have a break, but we are ready to move on. We up anchor and head for the fuel dock as that is our last job. By mid-day we are sailing out of the harbour in light winds of 10kts. It is warm and sunny with a temperature of 28 deg.c. By 1600 we have sailed 23nm in a southerly direction and dropped anchor mid-way down Lynyard Cay on its western shore. There are private homes here, but one can go ashore and walk to the Atlantic coast. The following day we explore the area in our tenders and go ashore and walk to the Atlantic coast side and do some beach combing. Mark catches crayfish, so we are invited to his boat for dinner – yummy. Next day we up anchor and motor the 2nm down to Little Harbour. This is the southernmost point where one stays inside the reef and cays before heading out through the cut and into the Atlantic to continue heading down Great Abaco Island.

Lynyard Cay

Little Harbour is just that – “Little”, but it is an interesting place. Another one of those bays that is almost completely enclosed. It is a harbour where one checks the state of the tide before entering as the depth drops to around a meter at low tide as you cross a sand bar, but once inside there is plenty of water under the keel. You really are at the end of the road, so to speak. Today the hillsides around the bay are dotted with homes, but that is only in recent times since the road access has improved. In earlier times it became the Bahamian hideaway for the eccentric runaway College professor and sculptor – Randolph Johnston. In the 1950’s he and his artist wife Margot, daughter and three sons, set sail from Northampton in Massachusetts on their schooner Langosta, to escape the maddening rush of civilization. Well they sure ended up in a very remote spot. They lived in the caves here while building thatched huts, and, eventually a foundry for Randolph’s work.   He made bronze castings which are still produced today by one of his sons and grandsons. There is a gallery now of theirs, and, local artists work. The last thing one would expect to find in such a remote spot, but so interesting. We spent 24 hours in here on a mooring buoy. We visited Pete’s Pub – run by one of Randolph’s sons, went into the museum and saw some of the bronze sculptures and other works, walked to the remains of the old lighthouse that overlooks the Atlantic, and saw the caves the family lived in from the tender. Turtles swam around our boats, and again the waters were warm, clean and clear.

Johnston Art Gallery

We then headed back to our anchorage off Lynyard Cay to wait another day for the weather to settle so we could go out through the reef entrance and head for the Island of Eleuthera. Alec managed to get us crayfish for dinner that night.

Atlantic side of Little Harbour

The following morning five yachts up anchor around 0630 and sailed out through rather “lumpy” seas in the channel, and into the Atlantic. It was a 52nm sail in which we were doing 6kts. Later that afternoon we dropped anchor on the northern side of Egg Island, North Eleuthera. The following day we spent most of the time in or on the water looking for conch and crayfish – NOTHING – but when you read up on this Island one finds out it is the premier Bahamian fishing port. Seventy percent of the annual Bahamian lobster production is harvested by the Spanish Wells fishing fleet – that is just around the corner from our anchorage. I did have fun catching my Jacks – bait fish. There was no shortage of those, and it was fun exploring other smaller cays in the area. On our first evening there I hauled in a rather large barracuda which ended up taking my hook and a length of line with it. The following morning there he is back again looking for more food. We know it was the same one as he was trailing the line from his mouth. So over went more bait, but he would not take it. Later we put bait onto a lure. It took half the morning before he took it and we pulled him in, only to lose the lure to him as we were lifting the ****** out of the water. So he won that round. One lure and one hook hanging from his mouth. Good thing is fish secrete an enzyme that causes the hooks to dissolve after a short time, so he will be free to fish again.

Egg Island, Eleuthera

The following morning the winds are light but in the right direction to head east to the Berry Islands. Mark thinks we should head out there, one place he has not really explored, so up anchor and off we go. Yes the winds were light and dropped even more over the course of the morning. Mark motored sailed, but we decided just to sail, so up went our MPS. We were doing between 2.8 – 6.5kts and the 45nm trip took 7 hours, but we saved all that fuel, and there was no hurry anyway. We sailed in behind Little Harbour Cay part way down the Berry Islands just before sunset. Mark had arrived about two hours before us and already had been ashore to “Flo’s “ Conch Bar for his first rum and conch fritters. Yes you will see we have the same names of places popping up all over the place. It can get quit confusing at times – “which Little Harbour are you talking about?”

Exploring Little Harbour in the tender

The Berry Islands are a crescent shape of small Cays lying on the eastern extension of the Great Bahama Bank. The bank inside is very shallow in places and most boats take the outside route between the cays. Also this group of Islands and Cays are less visited by cruising boats as they are more isolated. We spend the next day exploring our area. It is very pretty with sandy beaches, inlets and rocky coves. We find no conch or crayfish here, but the waters are warm and clear, and it is fun looking. The wind gets up that evening which brings a swell into the harbour making the anchorage a little rolly.

Great Harbour Cay Marina

The next morning is Christmas Eve 24th December. We are very surprised by a call from Mark saying we are heading south to the Islands off Nassau on New Providence Island – the capital of the Bahamas, a place he has said in the past he won’t go near as it is too expensive, too populated and impossible to anchor in the harbour. Also safety is an issue here. Alec has just downloaded a new weather report as tells him we will pass out through the reef, but, we will head north if we can’t sail south as it looks like we will be beating into the wind and seas. We will just have to meet up later. We head out first and sure enough it is going to be impossible to head south, so as we are turning north I radio him and say so. Ten minutes later he is following us !!!

That really would have been a horrid trip south. By 1400 we are anchored outside Great Harbour Cay at the northern end of The Berry Islands. We are sheltered from the SSE winds in here. The last four miles we had to drop the sails and motor as we crossed the shallows heading south-east again towards Great Harbour Cay, but motoring across the bank without he big seas was no problem, we just had to watch the depth. We are getting use to sailing across these shallow waters where one can see the bottom all the time. We are also getting good at “ eyeball navigation” – reading the colours of the waters which tell one what the bottom is and the approximate depths. Knowing which colours are grass and which are rock and coral heads. The water is also different colours as you pass over the sandy areas at different depths. We follow the tracks on the charts and watch the depth sounder the whole time.

Cut into Gt. Harbour

Great Harbour Cay – The Berry Islands.   Once anchored we take the tenders ashore through a cut into an amazingly sheltered harbour with a marina tucked into the southern end. Once in the marina you pass slightly dated multi coloured townhouses with docks out in front along one side, and the marina berths along the other. There are a few boats in here, some with live-a-boards on who have come south to avoid the American and Canadian winter. We find the marina grocery store where I buy potatoes to roast for Christmas dinner. We then motor out and around to Bullocks Harbour which is the main settlement and find another grocery store. Here we buy the last two bottles of milk. We are told the ship may not be in again for a week and a half with fresh supplies.

We have arrived and it is Christmas Eve. I have a Ham and Turkey to cook for Christmas, and with only a small oven decide that we will have the Ham for Christmas Eve dinner, and the Turkey on Christmas Day. Mark and Sally are invited for dinner both nights and bring the vegetables on Christmas Eve. I do my usual roast vegetables to go with the Turkey on Christmas day along with stuffing and green beans. I have also made my usual Christmas liquor fudges for desert. It was nice to be able to share Christmas with good friends.

On Christmas Day we get a real mixed bag of weather. It is quite windy, but we are tucked in under a cliff so it does not affect us. Then we have a quick shower of rain, then the sun comes out. It was lovely being able to Skype the family as there was a Cell Phone tower on the cliff in front of us.

Little Stirrup Cay

Boxing Day and we are on the move again, but not before a trash run into the bins in Bullocks Harbour. That is something one does not take for granted. It is so nice to be able to dispose of ones rubbish in the correct places when one can. We have a lovely down-wind sail for the first 4nm to our first way-point out on the bank, but then have to drop the sails and motor into the wind to our next anchorage in Slaughter Harbour, which is between Little and Great Stirrip Cays. These two Cays are the most northern in the Berry Island group. They sit on the edge of the Northwestern Providence Channel where the waters are deep enough for the cruise ships, hence both of the cays have been brought by cruise line companies. Little Stirrup Cay by the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, and Great Stirrup Cay is owned by the Norwegian Cruise Line. Yes you can guess what’s coming next !! That first night we were alone, but, the following morning as we rise for breakfast two huge liners are parked out in front of the Cays. Then they start to unload the hordes of passengers. No offence to those of you who enjoy this type of holiday, but, well let’s say we were very happy to be on our little ships doing our own thing. Not having to line up to use facilities like the kayaks, sail boards, and do snorkelling trips etc. We popped our kayak into the water to explore where we wanted. The passengers could not paddle from one Cay to the other, but had to stay in the waters around their designated one. We snorkelled and took the tender where we wanted, we just could not land on their busy beaches. But by sundowner time they were on their way again and we have the evening to ourselves.

Next morning the winds are light and variable. We are meant to be sailing back to Eleuthera. From here it is 60nm. Alec informs Mark we will not be motoring back!! A northerly is due to come through in a couple of days and we would rather wait for that. So we head south back down the Islands at 3kts. to Little Harbour sailing, and Mark motor sails the whole way back to Eleuthera. He does not get in till after dark. We will catch up in a couple of days !!

Back in Little Harbour it is dead calm. Not so much as a ripple on the water. We anchor out further from the shore. That evening I catch more mutton snapper. The next day is time to catch up on some maintenance. Our Head out flow pipe need cleaning as the calcium has built up in it. That is a good mornings work. In the afternoon we take the tender out for a explore and fine a huge conch bed. They are everywhere in ankle deep water. We can’t believe we missed it on our first visit. We only take four which we will take back to Eleuthera and share with Mark and Sally.

Beautiful Berry Islands

The following morning that northerly has arrived and we are ready for a good sail. With 2nd reef in the main and a reef in the jib we are on our way out through the entrance. Winds are 17-22kts, seas are 1.5-2mt with waves with breaking tops and we are doing 7.7kts. SHAMAL has found her slot and we are cutting through the seas. We arrive back at Egg Island at 1500 and sail in behind Egg Island and on to Royal Island Harbour to find Mark and another five boats sheltering in there. We hand over the conch which Mark cleans and cooks up for dinner for all of us. He then tells us we will be moving out in the morning. Help we have hardly caught our breath, but OK. His crew member Sally needs to return home for business sooner than first planned, and they want to move down to Governors Harbour, about mid-way down Eleuthera as there is an airport there.

Alec with the Conch

We download another weather forecast. The first 7nm to Current Cut the winds will be good, but after that the final 30nm, well let’s see!!??!! The following morning we are off, and yes that first leg was great. We have SSE winds of 15-17kts and we are sailing nicely at 7.3kts. We pass through Current Cut with the tide doing 8.3kts. Once through the Cut it is a whole different story. The winds have now come around to E. That is on the nose for us so we start tacking. Ten hours and 71nm later we have dropped anchor in Governors Harbour!!!!   Again we sail and Mark motor sailed. He got in an hour and a half before us.

Current Out

Our arrival into Governors Bay is New Year’s Eve. There is a Junkanoo Party tonight which should be great to attend, but we are all far too tired and end up having dinner and hitting the sack early. We are woken later to the sounds of the party and fireworks, but I don’t even have the energy to get out of bed to take a look. Mark has informed us that the first weekend in January there is a weekend long Jankanoo Party, so we will go to that one.

Govenours Bay

New Year’s day and we are ashore exploring when Sally has a phone call to say she is booked on a flight the following morning. Well that happened quickly. Poor Mark will now be looking for a new crew member.

Governors Harbour. What a pretty place. It is another long-established community, and also Eleuthera’s Capital. Buccaneer Hill which overlooks the harbour is dotted with colourful Victorian-era homes. It has a lovely beach at one end and again clean clear waters. We visited the Haynes Library which is situated on the water-front and housed in a building dating back to 1897. It was formally the home of the local Doctor. Here we met a delightful couple who have had property on the Island since the 1960’s and have now retired here full time. They invited us to visit them anytime which was so nice of them. We walked around Cupids Cay on the eastern side of the harbour to the site of the first US Consulate in The Bahamas – 1789. We also walked over the hill to the Atlantic side and the beautiful beach where the “ French Leave Resort” is. Another day a Maule sea plane flew into the bay so we went over to say hello. The pilot owns a Cay further south and has invited us to visit him there if we can. He tells us his mother was a New Zealander.


We have now been here five days and it is Wednesday evening. Alec downloads another weather report and Mark has been listening to the local weather reports. It looks like a strong blow will be coming through Saturday night and continuing through the following week. Wednesday night the winds change bringing a swell into the Harbour which is particularly uncomfortable for a mono. Oh help we are on the move again. So much for the Junkanoo festival this weekend. Thursday morning we up anchor and sail the 24nm down to Rock Sound Harbour. The holding is very good here. This is a big harbour, but fully enclosed. We have let our more anchor chain than usual as winds are expected to reach around 35kts for a time.

Friday we go ashore. Alec needs to get his pension form signed by a notary. Each time he has it done the price goes up. In the US the first time it cost him $10, then six months later $15, and this time $30. No receipt, and it was in a Government Office!! He thinks he will find a Church Minister next time and give a donation to the plate.

Here in Rock Sound we are a good two thirds down the Island. The town is more of a Ribbon Settlement laid out along the main Island road. There is a very well stocked supermarket, even catering to the likes of me on a GF diet. We walked to the Blue Hole – a sink hole on the edge of town. There are lots of little craft shop which I have visited. Everyone is so friendly and helpful. Mark was having computer problems, and the guy in a shop at the petrol station sorted it out for him. A lovely lady runs The Blue Seahorse craft shop where you can also get coffee and free WIFI. She gave us some passionfruit as well. Many of her crafts are made from the famous pink sand found on some of the beaches here, and also from sea glass. That is glass from broken bottles which has been washed up and worn smooth and opaque over time. The different colours can be dated back to quite early times. For example the old black gin bottles date back to the very early 1800’s

Then we get news that our daughter Brigitte who works on a private jet operating out of the States, has a trip to Nassau – the capital – on New Providence Island, at the end of this coming week. Oh help this was the one place we were advised to stay clear of, but when it comes to having family visit, and being able to bring down some spare parts for us, well, we just have to go. This might be where we say a fond farewell to Mark – and James his cat – on “Rainbow”. It has been great having him as our guide and taking us to places we would not have found without local knowledge.

N.E blowing 30kts in Rock Sound

Wednesday 11th January. The winds for the last few days have been gusting up to 30kts, but have now died down to around 17kts. We call Mark up on the radio and say we are leaving for Nassau this morning, via the Northern Exumas. We have a 37nm run to reach Highborne Cay. He tells us he will met us in the Exumas after the weekend, so it is not farewell just yet.

We up anchor and cross Rock Sound harbour following another catamaran out. Once out in Exuma Sound the seas have built to 2mts and the wind is gusting 33kts. We have reefed the main and jib and are sailing along nicely. By early afternoon we are anchored up behind Highborne Cay out of the winds and swell, so head off to explore the area in the tender. Again beautiful waters and lovely sandy beaches. By early evening two super yachts and a mono have joined us in our anchorage. On dusk we see mast head lights up and down the Cays here, so were are getting into a more popular cruising area here in the Exuma Cays.

Next morning we head out across the shallows for Nassau. The waters are that amazing aquamarine. It is only a 32nm leg today and Brigitte is not due in till tomorrow (Friday) evening, so we decide we will anchor off Rose Island tonight, and away from Nassau Harbour. We are in the company of five other boats anchored here. We have book a marina berth for the next day in the Nassau Harbour Club Hotel Marina. Sounds very posh, but in fact it is not. The water in the Harbour is cleaner than the water in the swimming pool. They have a laundry which comes in very handy but not all the machines work so there is a bit of a wait.   Right across the road is a shopping centre with a very nice, but very expensive supermarket, but, it has all the goodies one could want. Also there is a Starbucks. Great I can get my coffee fix.

Shamal in Nassau

We pull into the fuel dock first before moving into our berth at the marina. The fuel dock was a bit of a mission as a strong current was running plus the wind was blowing down the harbour which did not help, but there were a few helpers on the dock to take our lines.

We spend a lovely weekend catching up with Brigitte. She brings us down our spare parts plus lots of other goodies. We have the rest of the crew off the aircraft over for lunch. Brigitte leaves us Sunday evening, so, first thing Monday we are heading back to the Exuma Cays. We have been in contact with Mark and arrange to meet up again at Norman Cay, in the Northern Exumas. Before dusk we are anchored once more beside “Rainbow”. This Cay has its own history. During the late 1970’s to the early 1980’s this Cay was under the unfriendly control of the drug lord Carios (Joe) Lehder, who brought out the existing residents, or threatened them out, so he could set it up as his drug smuggling hub and private playground. A fleet of aircraft flew into the airstrip at night from Colombia and the drugs were reloaded into smaller aircraft which carried them on the States. Those days are well passed. The Cay is still privately owned by a group of residents, but cruisers can land on the beaches. So, the following morning it is back in the tenders and off to explore. Here there is a large lagoon with a Curtiss C-46 aircraft (that is similar to a Douglas DC 3) submerged in the water which was allegedly used for drug trafficking. That was a must see to find for us. The waters were quite choppy due to the wind, but we did manage to find the aircraft and take pictures. Then it was off to visit the numerous sandy beaches and smaller cays in the area. I did my usual beach combing finding lovely some shells.

Crashed plane in Norman Cay

It is now Wednesday 18th January, and oh Mark has been listening to his weather guru again. More weather is coming through on Sunday and he wants to be down in the shelter of Elizabeth Harbour, George Town before then. So we up anchor and head south. I really want to stop at Big Majors Spot Island which is famous for its swimming pigs – yes we have seen the swimming pigs in the Abacos, but it is the pigs here I wanted to see. No one is really sure how long the pigs have lived on the island, or how they came to be here, but lots of stories are around as to where they came from. Plus Staniel Cay next door which is said to be another very pretty stop.

Norman Pond

We did stop here for a couple of nights, so we did get to fed the pigs and visit Staniel Cay. As we took the tender into Pig Beach, some swam out to meet us. Maybe they could smell the fruit scraps we had for them. They started bunting the tender with their snouts pushing us sideways as Alec was trying to beach it. He had to reverse out, they followed and one even tried to climb in with us. The first evening there Mark comes over for dinner with us and brings his fishing rod. I catch an 8ft nurse shark, then about 20 minutes later Mark catches the same shark. That ends the fishing for the night!! The next day we take the tender over to Staniel Cay. The waters here, as in all the Exuma Cays, are exceptional – crystal clear, clean and the most beautiful aquamarine/turquoise colour. The settlement on the Cay is quaint with colourfully painted houses. Then there were the nurse sharks. Help we could not believe our eyes. As we tied the tender to the yacht club dock there were nurse sharks swimming around everywhere. When we returned to leave a local was feeding them for some tourists who had arrived. They – the tourists – were in the water with them. (see photo) Nurse sharks are not aggressive, well not these ones!!! I was not going to hop in and find out. A shark is a shark is a shark!!!!!

Swimming pigs

The following day we do the 56nm run down to George Town. At Farmers Cay we pass through the cut which takes us from the bank side out into the deep waters of Exuma Sound. We arrive into Elizabeth Harbour, George Town after dark, sneaking in between the reefs, rocks and sandbars. Once again the track in on the chart plotter took us safely to our anchorage, and we did let Mark go in first!!

Elizabeth Harbour is a long spacious basin with Great Exuma Island on its eastern side and Stocking Island plus numerous Cays on its western side. One can find protection from almost any wind direction in the many bays and coves within the harbour, hence it has become a favourite destination for many cruisers, especially those escaping the Canadian and American winter months. There are around 170 boats in here at the moment. Some arrive, spend a few days here and are on the move again to explore further afield, and others arrive and stay. It has the nick name of “Chicken Harbour” as many cruisers have arrived with the intention of sailing on down into the Caribbean, but get no further as it might involve an over-night passage, or the wind blew 20kts on the trip down here from the States for half a day, and that was terrible, or they just enjoy the social community life which has now become well established over the winter months.

Elizabeth Harbour, George Town

On Saturday we listen to the weather report on the morning cruisers net. A frontal system is passing down the eastern coast of the States and is expected to move out into the Bahamas and hit our area by around 1500 Monday. The next couple of days sees boats moving to different anchorages around the harbour. There are only about 12 of us in our bay anchored well apart. Winds are predicted at 30 – 40 kts with gusts possibly as high as 60kts as the squalls pass over – oh a normal Wellington Day (that is in New Zealand). In the end the weather system passed more to the north of us and our strongest recorded gust was 32.8kks at 1530. Alec slept through most of it.

So here we are, nearly at the end of our time in the Bahamas, for it is from here we will check out and head for Cuba. We do seem to have move too quickly at times through areas, but Mark really has made sure we have seen as much as possible in the time we had. The Bahamas cover such a huge area, one would need years to see it all. It does stand out as one of the top cruising areas we have been to, but, we are so looking forward to our next cruising ground – Cuba.

So we will sign out from here. We have been told that internet coverage in Cuba is not very reliable. We hope to spend the month of February there, so will post another blog when we can.


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