Operation Homeward Bound (Part 1)

As always, it was hard to break free from the gravitational pull of the Palm Cay Marina, with its hot showers, friendly staff, and beautiful beach club. And each time we downloaded a new weather grib file, the forecast wasn’t clear and obvious. We were either doing the right thing; grabbing a four-day window of settled weather that would take us safely back to Florida. OR… We were sailing straight west into the first named tropical storm of the 2018 season. One thing was clear. We weren’t going to get any closer to home by remaining tied to the dock.

And since all good things must come to an end, after thirteen weeks in The Bahamas, we turned Sanitas’ bow toward home.

Day #1: 45 miles, 9 hours

We started out knowing full well that our safe weather window was pretty small. While our friends Orion and SE of Disorder had sailed straight from Highbourne Cay to Miami in 34 hours, Capt. Mike and I acknowledged our weaknesses and our lack of experience in making long overnight passages. And we decided to make the trip from Nassau to Key Largo in a series of four long days instead. That meant we’d be leaving before the high winds had completely laid down. And we needed to arrive before the next storm hit. Plan B, in case the storm forecast changed dramatically, would be to only make it as far as Bimini and wait out the weather there. But you know how once you get it in your mind that vacation is over, you just wanted it to be done? Yep. We were there.

Leaving the narrow channel from Palm Cay Marina, we were immediately headed straight into the wind with higher winds and higher seas than predicted. It was rough enough initially that I asked Capt. Mike, “Is this one of those times we should reconsider our plans and return to the harbor if it’s not safe?” It always seems so obvious when you read the disaster stories and scoff at the stupid people who made bad choices. It’s not as obvious in real life. But we knew we’d be making several heading changes to round the east side of New Providence Island, and each change would put us on a more comfortable point of sail than the crashing into waves, so we put off making a final decision and just kept going. Sure enough, once we were on a beam reach, the effects were less drastic. After much navigating around coral, course changes, and hand steering, we finally made it to the busy Nassau Harbor. This is where all of the other marinas are located, as well as the cruise ship docks and the working docks, and it is as busy and crowded as the streets of downtown. After only brief rubbernecking at the fancy resorts on Paradise Island, we negotiated a super narrow pass of just enough deep water, and we were free!

The navigating from here on out was much easier, with plenty of opportunity to set the autopilot and go. But the seas stayed large and from the starboard quarter all day, making things uncomfortably rolly and pitchy. Blech. The two boats that were at the anchorage when we arrived left at sunset to continue west overnight.

Day #2: 75 miles, 13.5 hours

We settled into our daily routine. Alarm set for an hour before sunrise. Get up, brush teeth, make coffee, put on sunblock. Make sure the course is plotted and waypoints entered. Secure items in the cabin and galley. Dress in boat shoes, safety gear, sun hat. Be in the cockpit before first light, and raise anchor and sail off at sunrise.

Once again the seas were larger than predicted. I now understand a bit better the mixed blessing of “Fair winds and following seas.” After an entire season of fighting against the prevailing easterlies, we are finally sailing west. That means, in theory, the wind is pushing us in the direction we want to go and we won’t be crashing into the waves. However, the waves build in the direction of the wind (and had been building through the big blow we waited out in Nassau) so these were some of the largest waves we’d experienced. And when they hit at a slight angle, the ride is very rolly.

I tried to capture a few pictures of the swells rising up behind Sanitas, but I don’t think I did them justice!

This little nondescript pole is the only thing marking the Northwest Channel; the place where the “tongue of the ocean” (at pretty much infinite depth) meets the Grand Bahama Banks (of 12 to 14 feet in depth). At any time of day, the tide is either pulling vast amounts of water from the banks into the ocean, or pushing vast amounts back onto the banks causing some pretty chaotic currents and swells. Belatedly, we realized we should have treated this final cut with a bit more respect and perhaps planned our timing of the channel accordingly. But it’s better to be lucky than good, and our timing worked out well enough. We dealt with about 3 knots of current pushing us through the channel and onto the banks, and kept a sharp eye out for all the other vessels traveling that small channel at the same time.

We don’t sail well directly down wind, preferring winds at a 90deg to 120 deg angle. So for the remainder of the day we tried every trick in our repertoire to harness the power of a downwind sail. For a while we attempted wing-on-wing (with the mainsail on one side of the boat and the jib on the opposite side) wrestling with the whisker pole to hold the job in place and keep it full. When winds faded to less than 10 knots, we abandoned that approach, and raised the asymmetrical spinnaker. This involves both Capt. Mike and I clipping in to our harnesses and moving forward to the bow to rig the sail and we haven’t exactly got the process down pat. By the time we got the asym in place today, the wind shifted and we had to do the whole thing in reverse to take it back down. Sigh.

Most cruisers stage to cross from the Bahamas to Florida at Bimini. However, our goal was to end up as far south as possible on the other side of the Gulf Stream, so we decided to improve our odds of success a bit by doing some southing on the Bahamas side. So we spent the night anchored in about 23 feet of water (deep!) in the middle of nowhere off the aptly named South Riding Rocks. Theoretically a good idea, but this spot is effected by a great deal of current and fetch. So while our super anchor kept us safe, we spent a terribly uncomfortable night bouncing and rolling in a very noisy boat. We slept only fitfully, and both of us were awake before the alarm went off ready to get the heck out of dodge.


Stay tuned for Operation Homeward Bound (Part 2)… Crossing the Gulf Stream!

Playing tourist in Nassau

After a week of bad weather in Palm Cay Marina, we started to get a little bit stir crazy. So when Demario offered us a discount on a car rental, we jumped at it! Mike and I combined forces with Robert and Rhonda on Eagle Too and we spend an entire day playing tourist.

I hadn’t really felt any need to see Nassau. I’d always heard it is crowded and even dangerous. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the historic district is also very beautiful. We started our tour at the Queen’s staircase, 102 feet of stairs and a narrow canyon carved into a limestone mountain as an escape route from the city fortifications. This morning, athletes were using the steep climb as an outdoor gym…sort of like Red Rocks in Colorado.

Fort Fincastle at the top of the hill provides amazing views of Nassau and the harbor.

Quite a bit of colonial architecture remains, hosting government buildings and businesses. This is Government House, the home of the governor of the Bahamas, Marguerite Pindling.

The library is housed in the hexagonal former jail building. They store books in the cells.

I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the beautiful Greycliff Hotel and gardens. When we win the lottery, I’m staying here for a week!

In addition to the lovely hotel, restaurant, and gardens, the Greycliff Complex includes several artisan shops selling chocolates, wine, and cigars hand-rolled on premises. They say they are better than Cuban cigars. I think they all smell equally foul.

Colorful public art is everywhere in Old Town Nassau… no admission fee required.

I got it into my head that I wanted to eat lunch at Fish Fry. It’s not one particular restaurant (and not all the fish is fried!) but a cluster of casual, inexpensive eateries, shacks, and food trucks just off the bridge to Arawak Cay. You can try any type of Bahamian food here, and locals have their favorite shack, mostly named after the cook.

My friends humored me, and agreed to the fairly long walk in the heat to fish fry. I have to say, the people watching on the walk over was worth it!

As we approached Fish Fry, a tout with a sign grabbed us and started fast talking, ” You lookin’ for Fish Fry? Follow me to Fish Fry. I’ll take you right there!” It’s hard to resist the sales pitch, especially when your feet hurt and you are hot and thirsty. So we followed him into the nearest restaurant and ordered a drink. But then I had to put my foot down. I’d done my research, read reviews, and I’d be darned if we were going to act like cruise ship sheep and eat at the restaurant with the pushiest tout! I was going to eat at Goldie’s, gosh darn it!

So my long suffering friends paid for their drinks, got up and left the restaurant without ordering food, and followed me to Goldie’s. I’m glad we did! We sat out on the water overlooking a veritable mountain of queen conch shells and had a feast.

Rashid showed us how he cleans and preps the conch before cooking.

But I have to admit, by this point in our Bahamas travels, I was a little bit conched out. Is it ok to admit it? So instead I ate some amazing grilled snapper with vegetables and the signature cocktail – Goldie’s Call A Cab. What is it with the Bahamas and green cocktails?

In an effort to see how the other half lives, we decided to crash Atlantis for the afternoon. Here we are driving up the the front door (basically NO ONE actually drives to Atlantis, we might have given ourselves away with that one)

Here’s the marina we didn’t stay at, because it’s crazy expensive. We met folks at Compass Cay who stayed at Atlantis Marina for two nights and the bill was $850.

We enjoyed exploring the public areas of this resort, particularly the Atlantis themed aquarium. I was obsessed with getting a selfie with an eagle ray… not entirely successfully.

And …. much better fish pictures, no Jenn!

Our last attempt to pretend we are resort people, not cruisers, was a stroll through the casino. The highlight is definitely the Chihuly glass sculptures. I got in trouble taking the first picture. I guess I wandered into one of the gambling pits… oops!

So we walked our legs off, ate great food, and enjoyed amazing colorful art, all for the cost of a $60 rental car split between four people. Not bad at all! This might have been the best value sightseeing tour in Nassau that day!