Exploring Eleuthera Part #2

One of the best things about sailboat cruising is that we get to experience so much of the world that is off the typical tourist path. We visit pristine white sand beaches, where Capt. Mike and I are usually the only two human beings to be found. (Although there are always plenty of lizards!) And I marvel at the fact that there are still miles of ocean shore that are NOT covered in condos and sunbathers. However, the flip side of this blessing is that we don’t get the opportunity to explore the interior of the islands we visit. We’re usually limited by the distance we can cover on foot in tropical heat.

So to remedy that situation, we decided to join forces with the crew of Leef Nu and Elixir to rent a car and really explore the towns and natural wonders of Eleuthera. It’s a long and skinny island (110 miles long, and often about a mile wide) so we had to motivate and get an early start to have any hope of seeing it all. From the Rock Sound anchorage, we started north. Big thanks to Kevin for driving and figuring out the whole “drive on the left side” thing. Since we had plenty of room in the van, we pulled over a few miles outside of town and picked up a little old lady hitchhiker who promptly fell asleep in the passenger seat and stayed that way for the next hour and a half. We couldn’t bring her all the way to her destination, but I hope we helped her out a bit that day!

First stop was the Glass Window – a narrow ridge of rock less that 30 feet wide that separates north and south Eleuthera.

The scenery is extremely dramatic because the velvet blue deep Atlantic Ocean forms the east side and is full of fury and waves and rocky cliffs, while the lighter turquoise shallow Bight of Eleuthera forms the west side in calm and quiet waters. At its narrowest point, there is only room for the road that crosses the water on a one-lane bridge. Every few years, a hurricane ravages the bridge, disrupting life on the island until it can be repaired. Most recently, a rogue wave pushed the entire bridge about 15 feet west (!) and it was easier to move the road to the new location than to move the bridge back to the road. I thought this would be a quick stop, but we just kept hiking to new vantage points and taking more pictures.

Just south on the bridge is the best, most powerful blow hole I’ve ever seen! I expected a blow hole to expel a huge plume of sea water toward the sky. Maybe I was confusing it with a geyser? Instead, it’s a bit of magic – an invisible force that inhales a deep breath, and puffs it back out, complete with a haunted “whooooooo” noise. A conveniently located tin can kept us entertained for ages: drop it in the hole and minutes later, whoooooo-pop! The can shoots skyward!

Next stop – the Queen’s Baths where on a calm day, at low tide, you can linger in the baths for hours, enjoying the sun-warmed water and checking out the shells and interesting creatures caught in the tidal pools. But if you’re there on rough day or at high tide like we were, instead you decide to appreciate the force and beauty of nature from a safe distance. Still beautiful though!

Just outside the little town of Hatchet Bay, we took a narrow little dirt road until we no longer felt safe driving the rental car. Just across from our unofficial parking spot we found a hole in the ground and climbed down to check out the caves.

At first glimpse the cave was cool, but seemed fairly small. But we followed a trail of string along the ground and it kept going….and going….and going. At times, I expected blind albino creatures from a horror movie to scuttle out from the shadows of our head lamps, but I just kept breathing, and kept following that string, and eventually exited from a different hole in the ground about three quarters of a mile away. The cave was truly amazing. Back in the states, there’d be an entrance fee and a tour guide and a gift shop. Here in the Bahamas there was just us – and ancient stalactites, a rainbow of colors, caverns high enough to stand up in, and tunnels so low we had to crawl. Oh, and bats! What a cool adventure.

After all that adventure-ing, we’d worked up quite an appetite. So, acting on a tip from my new friend Amy, we stopped at LeoRose Sunset Beach in James Cistern for a late lunch and some great live music!

And THEN……. ok, this is exciting. I’m getting all giggly just thinking about it again. After we parked the rental car and wandered down the beach toward our dinghy and returning to Sanitas, we ran into DAN AND KIKA OF SAILING UMA! If you haven’t heard of Sailing Uma, they are YouTube sailing video celebrities who bought an old, inexpensive sailboat and spent about a year getting her in good condition to sail, and then have been cruising in a very sustainable manner, capturing their adventures and their boat projects in truly stunningly beautiful videos. They are charming, talented, artistic, and so much fun to watch! And… I can now tell you from personal experience after Capt. Mike got all fanboy on me …. they are very genuine and down-to-earth people. So after crossing paths on the beach, they joined us on Sanitas for cocktails and to share travel stories. (In case you’re wondering, when YouTube celebrities stop by, I break out the last stash of charcuterie and hummus imported from Florida, as well as a bag of precious tortilla chips 😜). And if the day couldn’t get any better, they invited us over to Uma for a quick tour and to sign their chalkboard wall. If you haven’t headed over to YouTube yet to subscribe to their channel, do it! now! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAye0mf2A8g&feature=share

Exploring Eleuthera part 1

I’d have been perfectly happy to stay in paradise in the mid-Barrys for a week, but Mother Nature had other plans. January weather is tricky in the Bahamas, especially in the northern islands, and we had found ourselves in a pattern of cold fronts bringing unusually cold temperature to Florida, and then carrying on with strong north winds to our region of the Bahamas. At one point, Chris Parker was forecasting winds up to 40 knots. Yikes! So we temporarily left paradise behind, and grabbed a break in the weather to head south.

We raised anchor at 6:40 am and our small flotilla of three boats sailed south along the Berry chain, paralleling the coast of Little Harbour Cay, before leaving land behind and heading mostly east and a little bit south toward Eleuthera. It wasn’t a sure thing that we could successfully make this jump. The magnitude and direction of the wind introduced risk of high swells that could slow our forward progress enough to keep us from making it to safe harbor before sunset. But we were lucky this time, and the winds instead made for an exhilarating day of sailing! No need for our backup plan of diverting to Nassau. We set our anchor in Royal Island Harbour at 4:45 after traveling 51nm and squeezed in among the dozen boats already there; apparently we aren’t the only ones with this great idea to hide from the next front.

Royal Island is definitely safe and secure – practically a hurricane hole – but there’s NOTHING to do there. It’s a private island, hosting a luxury resort whose five villas and private clubhouse start at $14,000 per night. So they obviously don’t want riffraff like us ashore. We entertained ourselves in the calm before the storm with stand-up paddle boarding and scraping growth off the bottom of Sanitas. Fun, too, surprising the local turtle population with our loud and splashy presence.

But the next day, the front hit just as protected with torrential rain and sustained winds of over 35 knots and we never left the boat. We baked brownies, indulged in snacks of smoked salmon and goat cheese, and watched movie after movie. I’ve gotta admit – it killed me to be only four miles from the closest point of land at Spanish Wells, and not to be able to get over to town! One more reminder that while cruising, weather is always king.

So as soon as that front passed, we made another hop over to Eleuthera to find our next hidey hole and hopefully a bit of civilization to go with it. One of the best things about this second season of Bahamas cruising is that we can mix favorite locations from last year with visits to new places that we missed the last time around. Eleuthera is one of those new spots I’ve been really anxious to explore. After a fast 35 mile sail and successfully timing passage through Current Cut, we set anchor outside beautiful Governor’s Harbour. This colorful city filled with flowers was the first capital of the Bahamas, and the colonial architecture and largest library outside of Nassau attest to that legacy of influence. We put Bug in the water and rushed ashore to explore the town and beautiful French Leave Beach on the Atlantic side of the island.

Look at those cute newlyweds!

Unfortunately (say it with me now) weather is king! And the holding is poor off Governor’s Harbour, in hard marl and grass, and we couldn’t trust it to keep Sanitas safe during the next front. So with only a teaser of the islands’ charms, we hopped another 25 nm south to Rock Sound. Capt. Mike and I really tested our standard operating procedure for lowering the dinghy when we tried it in more than 20 knot winds. Good thing we’ve had a lot of practice! Flawless. Several friendly wagging dogs showed us the way to Ocean Hole Park, just two blocks from the dinghy dock, and we quickly oriented ourselves to the location of the cheap grocery store, the fancy grocery store, the free drinking water, and the absolutely not free happy hour at Frigates.

Then I had a real treat …. I’m a member of the Facebook group Women Who Sail, and I’ve learned a great deal about maintaining a boat and about cruising life from the discussions. A fellow WWS member, Amy, had posted that she lives on Eleuthera and would love to meet up. The timing worked out perfectly and she drove down to meet me and to show off her beautiful island the day before returning to winter in Vermont. We had a great time exploring marinas and secret beaches well beyond the range I could ever reach by foot.

And of course we shared stories about our families, backgrounds, and lives. It’s really special when social media can facilitate real life friendships! Amy gave us tips for where to listen to live music and how to find the local fish frys, and introduced us to another local, Bobby, who we met up with every day for the rest of our stay. Thanks for the homemade bread, cheese, and other treats Amy! And thanks for sharing your love of your beautiful island home.

Our First Real Taste of Paradise

So far, our Bahamas journey has taken us to the islands of Bimini and Great Harbour Cay. But it wasn’t until we made it to the mid-Berries, anchored between Devil’s Cay and White Cay, that we really felt that we’d made it to an island paradise.

Trish, of SV Elixir, had caught her first yellowfin tuna on the sail over. So we all gathered in the cockpit of Leef Nu for a lesson on cleaning and filleting this beautiful fish. Kevin made it all look very easy, and Trish ended up with four huge loins, and some odd sized pieces. Plenty for sushi and for cooking!

Thanks to travel tips from Todd and Celia on SV Eileen, we had more than enough ideas for things to do within a short dinghy ride of the anchorage. We anchored in a fairly shallow pool of turquoise blue water, surrounded by small uninhabited islands covered in jungle greenery and ringed with white sand beaches (hence the name White Cay). Capt. Mike and I couldn’t stop grinning at each other saying “Now THIS is what they advertised in the travel brochure!”

Our first adventure was a short hike to the Blue Hole on Hoffman’s Cay; an almost perfectly round lake of saltwater in the middle of the island, surrounded by cliffs filled with caved and gnarled greenery. Only Capt. Mike and Jeff had the courage to leap off the cliffs into the super salty water (that of course went straight up their noses) but we all took the opportunity to cool off with a snorkel with a sea turtle.

And then we threw ourselves a beach party worthy of a Corona beer commercial. On teeny tiny Big Gaulding Cay, we found an equally teeny tiny pristine sand beach equipped with a small camp: fire pit, wooden table, and beach chairs. Leef Nu brought a cast iron pan, charcoal, and some fresh snapper, Elixir brought some of that delicious tuna, and the crew of Sanitas, who have yet to catch a fish, contributed brie and crackers and a scrumptious quinoa and black olive salad. Kevin manned the fire, and together we created a veritable feast of seared and fried fish, salads, and the requisite cold beers and rum drinks.

There was even a perfectly placed coconut palm tree grown right through the middle of the table with coconuts just mature enough to provide delicious coconut water. Lo and behold, Kevin had brought along a machete (yes, really!) so we could put da lime in da coconut and drink it all up.

You know, a beach day in the Bahamas really doesn’t get any better than this, and we’re lucky to have found good friends (who can actually catch fish!) to share it with.