We loved our almost 2 days at SW Allan Cay in the northern Exuma island chain. The shallow, mostly sandy anchorage was small but protected and lovely with interesting low-lying rock formations, a tiny sand beach, palm trees, quiet neighbours and of course, Iguanas! This stay allowed us to check off some items on the big “To Do” list such as: effect sail repairs (by “we” I actually mean Paul….is there anything the man can’t do?), make sure the head was in top shape and working (it was – great work Jim!) and have a good look at the new damage to the hull.
Each day we also learned how 3 of us could live on a relatively small boat. The F-31 is just about 31′ long and is 22′ wide when unfolded. This gives the sailor a lot of deck space (ie. more room to store our crap). But because this is a trailerable sailboat where the pontoons fold into the main hull, there is not a lot of interior space. I believe the whole rig is around 8′ 6″ wide when folded so it can go on a trailer and legally travel on roads in North America, etc. The interior has standing head room of about 6′ 2″. Jim is about 6′ 0″ so this works. Paul on the other hand, is 6′ 4″. Poor fella. Luckily, there is a sliding hatch above the companionway steps where he could stand up straight even in the rain as the boat came equipped with a dodger – a cover over this hatch to help keep the companionway dry in the rain.
Covers over the cockpit such as the dodger and the bimini over the aft (or rear) part of the cockpit, help to provide additional shade and protection from the elements. Some cruisers fully enclose the cockpit which creates almost an entire extra room. Our 22′ trimaran “Raise a Little Hull” has a bimini and in the evening, we can cover the cockpit with a patio umbrella screen to keep the mosquitoes out. On this trip, we didn’t use a cockpit screen. We did bring along very fine mesh screens for the front hatch and the companionway which could keep out both mosquitoes and no-seeums (tiny biting midges called sand flies in the Bahamas). Regular screening won’t keep out no-seeums by the way. You have to use a fabric like bridal veil netting if you are going to make your own screens.
Back at our rental house in Rock Sound, we had made the mistake of leaving one of the sets of French Doors open with just some loose mosquito netting across it one evening, and we eaten up by no-seeums. They come at dusk and leave when it’s fully dark (or so I’m told, as I try not to be out at dark with those little buggers around). The locals all put on long cotton/denim pants and long-sleeved cotton shirts and still cover themselves in Deet at twilight. Deet is the only thing that I’ve found that works 100%. I have a homemade spray for mosquitoes and midges but it’s not 100% effective. It’s good for a trail walk during the day, but not for keeping swarms of them off of you at night. The no-seeums can literally leave you scratching for months! Jim has experienced that and I didn’t want him or any of us to face that torment so we were screened up as darkness fell. I don’t know whether it was because it was winter, but we didn’t feel that there were many mosquitoes on our trip…thank goodness.
The winds died down to a reasonable speed for sailing and the marine forecast was fine…sunny and warm with a moderate breeze and small following waves. It was time to leave SW Allan Cay. Looking at the chart, we decided to head north on a broad reach toward Nassau. A cruise we had met in Rock Sound told us about a great anchorage on the south side of Rose Island just east of New Providence Island where the city of Nassau is located. I was excited to sail on the Exuma Bank. I’ve heard a lot about how beautiful it is when sailing along this shallow patch of land on the leeward side of the Exuma chain. On the charts, the water we were to sail across showed depths of 3-5 metres. I will put a pictures of the Banks below. The popular sailing show “Distant Shores” with Sheryl and Paul Shard has a great clip on YouTube about sailing in this area. (Click Here to watch the video)
Before we hauled anchor, we dinghied ashore in the cool of the morning to see if we could find any of the endangered rock iguanas we heard were in the Allan Cays. Sure enough we saw tracks and burrows but none of the famous lizards! We hiked across the tiny cay to the south side which faces Highborne Cay. These low, rather desolate islands are mostly limestone with some palms and scrub trees. It’s a dry-looking landscape. Perfect for lizards one would think.
There! On the beach! The guys spotted a small specimen. It was about 18′ long. We took some pictures and videos. It didn’t seem too worried about us. We went back to the beach where the dinghy was as the sun began to warm the rocks around us. Suddenly we heard rustling in the scrub…all around us!!! We realized that we were surrounded by several of these rare critters! The biggest that I saw was about 2′ long. They do have a reddish chest and long claws. They are also very bold. Most came eagerly toward us. I think they were looking for handouts. Maybe visitors feed them? Tsk tsk. I hate to imagine that. Same with the poor pigs at Big Majors. We heard later on that several of the friendly pigs died because some idiot tourist fed them rum!! Can you imagine? I have stronger words to describe that kind of sub-human but I won’t use them here. I was so mad.
I’m glad these iguanas have a relatively safe place in which to live. They can swim to the other nearby cays I’m sure so that helps. It was great to see them but once again, time was moving on and so should we.
Our passage to Rose Island looked to be about 30 nautical miles. If we could sail at 6 knots, that would be about 5 hours.
It was a beautiful day and the shallow waters of the Exuma Bank were ridiculously beautiful. A turquoise blue that I’m not even sure I could paint…and I’m an Art Teacher! Beside that, how can a painting capture the transparent beauty of that water. Am I voicing an artistic sacrilege? Probably. I’ll take that chance (but I know that I will try to paint that water!!). We still weren’t used to sailing in these shallows so I was a bit concerned about how deep the coral heads were that we could see. Paul would probe the depth now and then with our long paddleboard paddle but couldn’t touch one so on we sailed.
The day was really pleasant. The sun was shining and the crew were in great spirits. Paul was delighted when we hit speeds such as 10 knots! His sail repair was great but still largely untested as we were reaching along with the screecher, our big foresail instead of the jib. The guys were often sailing with the “hot stick” or tiller extension. This allowed the helmsperson to sit out on the beams or the netting for a better view of the telltales on the sails (ribbons or yarn attached to the sails which indicate that your sails are trimmed properly for the wind, thus allowing for maximum speed)
By this date, we were 5 days into our trip from Rock Sound. We had filled up the freshwater tank before leaving but it was already getting a bit low. We hadn’t yet had time to try the watermaker aboard, which is a desalinator. It had been sitting a long time without having been properly “pickled”. This means that it had not been shut down properly to preserve the membrane (filter) while not in use. We weren’t sure if the system worked and we didn’t want to take a chance that it would. So we decided to detour to New Providence Island to get some water and a few supplies at Palm Cay Marina on the south-east side of the island. Our guidebook said that the marina had a little store for basic provisioning so we hoped to stock up on essentials: water, beer, maybe some meat and or salad, etc.! But no, the little store was closed when we arrived around 4:00 ish. I think the gal in the office said it closes at 3:00!
The water was available from a tap up on the quite high dock. We had brought a flexible hose and could easily reach the tank access with it. Once the hose was connected I turned on the tap….water spewed everywhere! I guess some of the water went down the hose as Jim gave me the thumbs up. I think we were quoted 25¢/ gallon…our tank is about 35 gallons. I could literally see our money going overboard. Sheesh! The dock helper didn’t seem too concerned. Paul helpfully suggested that they could use a new washer. Again, the young man didn’t seem too worried….Island style Mon.
Anyhew, at least we had freshwater. We headed across another 5 nautical miles to the Rose Island anchorage. Being a shallow draft boat, we could wiggle our way past other anchored boats farther into shallower water, keeping an eye on the depth in case the tide went out. It was a lovely sandy anchorage with several homes set up on the hill beside us and the lights of Nassau behind us to the west. The boys barbequed and all was lovely.
None of us were really interested in seeing Nassau on this trip as we really needed to keep moving so the next day we set off to sail to the Berry Islands, the last group of islands before Bimini. This passage was to be about 40 nautical miles. The winds were a little stiff but it was sunny and the waves were short and spaced fairly far apart. In short, it was a lovely day for a sail.
One thing we noticed was when the shallow aquamarine banks waters darkened to the indigo blue of much deeper waters. The colours of the water of the Bahamas are entertainment in themselves. But not to be outdone, Paul practiced his kiteboarding moves on the netting as we reached along. We averaged about 7 and reached 11 at one point as the winds increased quite a bit as the day went along. 13 knots or even more were speeds which the guys were trying to reach if conditions were right. Did we? Nope, not on this leg. The videos of this passage are below.
Once we reached the Berry Islands, we decided to sail into a shallow anchorage between Whale Cay and Bird Cay to the west. While it was good to get out of the winds, it was a tricky anchorage as it was 1-2 metres deep with some rocks here and there plus some swirly winds. We finally found a patch of sandy bottom where we could drop the hook and feel comfortable out of the winds. After we were settled, we realized that we were seeing a lot of hurricane damage ashore. The trees looked ragged with quite a few being wind-thrown (the whole tree is pushed over exposing the root system) and wind-blown where they are snapped off at the trunk. Back in October, Hurricane Matthew slammed through the western Bahamas and the Berry islands were right in his path. We were to see much more damage on our trip but that will have to wait for Part 4 of the Rest of the Story: “Bimini here we come…and here we stay”