Chapter 5: The Exumas

Thursday June 30, 2005.  First thing we pull over to the fuel dock to take on diesel.  We almost cancel the trip as we no sooner tie off at the fuel dock when the power goes off.  Is this an omen?  No, power comes back on and we are under way for the Exumas, across the very shallow East Bank, where my charts say no channel exists.  Only a compass heading which says there are no coral heads within 15 feet of mean low water if you stay on this course.  So, of course we stay on this course at all cost.

Arrive at Ship Cay and anchor off for the night by 6:00 p.m.  We hit no coral heads.

Friday July 1, 2005.  Motor over to nearby Allen Cay to play with the Iguanas.  The anchorage is very small and very shallow.  Bald Eagle, a nearby trawler, has, so we learn, 100’ of chain out and is concerned that we might have anchored too close. Rather than get into a philosophical debate about how much rode is appropriate in a small, shallow anchorage, we assure the man from Wisconsin that we are just here for the afternoon and will move on before nightfall. One hundred feet of chain in a crowded anchorage that is less than seven feet deep!!!  This captain needs to go back to the wide-open spaces in Wisconsin!  Meanwhile, Jim catches a nice tuna while we are underway

Thunderball GrottoSaturday July 2, 2005.  Arrive about 3:30 p.m. at Staniel Cay and drop anchor close to Thunderbird Grotto where, of course, some of the James Bond film “Thunderball” was filmed.  Jim makes us a tuna sandwich from yesterday’s leftover tuna, then we dinghy into the yacht club for their 4th of July Happy hour.  What a small world.  There we meet Andy Wilson, brother of Mike Wilson, for whom I worked as manager of Key West Ice Cream Factory for a short time in 1998 until Hurricane George, at which time he fired me rather than pay my salary during a prolonged period of time when there would be no tourist traffic.  (Andy noticed the company T-Shirt that I still have and am wearing.)

Andy also informed us that Mike on s/v Valletta anchored next to the Sirius II has some weather fax software that he wants to share with anyone who needs it.  So we agree to extend our stay here until the weather fax is installed on my computer.

Monday July 4, 2005.  Based on the favorable weather report that we gleaned last night from the weather fax, we elect for an early departure for Georgetown, although the barometer had inched up to 30.15.  Once out of the harbor, the wind makes a subtle shift to right off our nose at about 20 knots.  Not pleasant, but about noon we were able to raise sails and move along at six – seven knots.

On the BeachArrive about 7:00 p.m. and anchor near Gaviota Bay, across the harbor from Georgetown proper.  We take the dinghy in to Chat and Chill for a cold beer and conch salad to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Tuesday July 5, 2005.  Move the boat into Exuma Docking Service for water and an overnight stay.  Very tricky, as it is very shallow and we are approaching at low water.  We get more information that bad weather is headed our way, including tropical depression Dennis just south of Cuba.  With this in mind, on Wednesday we take the boat out of the marina, where the wind and current make it very turbulent, and re-anchor across the bay on the leeward shore of Stocking Island.

The next day we start feeling the effects of Hurricane Dennis and settle in for a long stay here, as Dennis at this time was just clearing Jamaica.  By mid-day Thursday I am wondering if the sliding glass doors on the Rejoyce, my new houseboat docked at Garrison Bight in Key West, are substantial enough to withstand the force of Dennis.  So, for the second time this day we cross the mile-wide bay by dinghy in 20-knot winds to Georgetown to make a phone call.  Not knowing whom else to call, I call Steve King, one of the builders, and pose this question.  “Of  course,” he assures me, “the glass doors are built to withstand winds up to 100 miles an hour.” However, he offers to board up the doors for my peace of mind. 

Upon my return I learn the windows did not get boarded, either because it was a low priority for him, or he got wind of the revised course of Dennis, putting it 60 miles to the west of Key West and downgraded to a category one.  Later I was to learn that the sliding glass doors could withstand winds of nearly 100 miles an hour.  See my other story about Hurricane Wilma. Moreover the force of Dennis is strong enough to sink one houseboat at Garrison Bight City Marina.

Sy and DebraSunday, Independence Day for The Bahamas, we stay around for the Pig Roast at Chat and Chill and to discuss with Sy and Debra (Happy Heart) about weather information.  Sy has a lot of nice electronics on his sailboat that have a wealth of potential information.

Monday July 11, 2005.  Departed Stocking Island (Georgetown) o/a 8:30 a.m. with the original intent to sail to Rum Cay.  However, after radio contact with the couple on Happy Heart, we shortened our run to Conception Island with a promise of a bar-b-que chicken dinner and brownies after an afternoon of snorkeling. 

After carefully negotiating the West exit, we are able to close-haul sail with a starboard wind of about 15 knots.  As the winds changed, blowing us a little off course, we motor sail most of the way.  But the snorkeling and dinner on board Happy Heart is worth the inconvenience of the motor.

Tuesday July 12, 2005.  Weather information this a.m. is very unfavorable.  Tropical Storm Emily is near hurricane status and threatens to affect us in two or three day’s time, predicted to follow a similar path as Hurricane Dennis.  Our intended course puts us even closer to the storm’s path.  What to do, what to do?  Return to Georgetown?

Wednesday July 13, 2005.  This a.m., on the Yacht Boy SSB receiver, which allows us to receive Single Side Band weather information, we hear a favorable weather for the Bahamas.  Before we can make a decision about a new course, we hear another report that is not so favorable.  We call Happy Heart.  They haven’t heard either report, but another forecast is due any moment.  So, we put the dinghy back in the water, row over to Happy Heart, and listen to a third forecast.  This confirms the first, so Georgetown is out; San Salvador is now the destination.

We get underway about 9:30 a.m., prepared to motor the entire 36 nm.  San Salvador is one of the islands that lays claim to being Christopher Columbus’ first landfall when he sailed to the “New World” in 1492.

The next day we take a guided tour of the 12-mile long island, and “Snake eyes,” the guide, does his best to convince us that Columbus did indeed land here on October 12, 1492, his first landfall in the New World.  He quotes from Columbus’ Log entries that refers to the size and shape of the island, the size of the major harbor, the outlying islands, and the inland lakes that do abound on San Salvador.

We do some shopping later in the little town of Cockburn only to realize just how little the town is.  Not a single restaurant in the down town area, but there are two out of town, one of which is Club Med, the primary employer for the island.

Friday July 15, 2005.  After listening to the weather reports, and exchanging information with Happy Heart, elect to get underway about 8:30 for a safe anchorage as severe weather is being forecast for two days hence—related to the proximity of Hurricane Emily.  As we anticipate excellent sailing conditions, we pose for photographs outside of Fernandez Bay before getting underway.  To ensure our safety, we elect to go into the Marina at Sumner Point, arriving about mid afternoon in blustery winds.

Our slip at the marina requires that we tie off on pilings rather than the dock.  This is difficult due to the wind and the current.  Also, I had not had the opportunity to instruct Jim on the nature of tying off on pilings.  With the solar panels that extend beyond the stern of the Sirius II, this always is a concern.  But, after a few tense moments, we make it in and are secure along side of Happy Heart, where we will remain for several days due to the far-reaching effects of Hurricane Emily and Tropical Wave/Depression Franklin.

We tour the island on golf carts two different times, but there really isn’t that much to do here.  There are only 100 or so permanent residents, the marina where we are, an air field, a small grocery store that is very dependent on the weekly supply boat from Nassau, which at this time is two weeks overdue, and two or three restaurants that may or may not be open, but might be open if you call ahead and place your order.

Chapter 4 Chapter 6

Copyright © 2006 Steven Jones. All Rights Reserved.
2005 Bahamas