Chapter 3: The Islands of the North

Mike and Tennile snorkelingWednesday June 15, 2005.  Underway at 12:00 noon for Gun Cay, eight nm to the south, known for its clear waters and diving.  This is one of our best snorkeling outings of the trip. After an afternoon at anchor here, swimming and snorkeling, we turn to the north for an overnight passage to Lucaya on the Grand Bahamas.

As is so often the case, here we meet a lovely couple, Steve and Charleen on Tranquility who are very helpful and full of good advice as what to see and do hereOne of the tasks for me is to refill the main propane tank.  To do this, I have to water taxi and bus into Freeport, the second major city of the Bahamas.  Of course I have to disguise the propane tank since regulations prohibit transporting “hazardous” materials on a public conveyance.  The option is to hire a taxi, at a cost of about $50 just to get $10 of propane.  Didn’t make much sense to me.

Friday June 17, 2005.  Departed Lucaya on or about 6:00 p.m. for the Berry Islands. Refueled first, taking on 28 gallons of diesel.  Again, Tennile prepares a delightful snack as we are underway.  We use the same rotation of watches as we sail a close haul toward the SSE.  The greatest challenge is to track the various freighters and cruise boats we see during the night.  Twice we change our course, not knowing for sure if the approaching vessel sees us or not.

We anchor in the big bay on the east side of Great Harbor.  During the early afternoon we take the dinghy in to shore and walk the mile distance to the other side of the island to check out the marina and other facilities, which includes a bar where one could wet one’s whistle if so inclined.

Sunday June 19, 2005.  On this Father’s Day, we set a leisurely sail for Little Harbor Cay, only 10 nm to the south.  Soon after departure we are greeted by a squall, which didn’t want to go away.  For the first time on this trip, I have to reduce sail dramatically:  Completely furl the fore sail and put a single reef in the main sail, before dousing all sails completely as we approach Little Harbor.  We are able to find refuge from the storm in the small pocket between Guano Cay and Little Harbor.

Monday June 20, 2005.  Waited out most of the morning, watching the weather.  About noon the wind, now out of the south, appears to lie down enough to sail across Northern Providence Channel to Harbor Island, just east of the northern end of Eleuthera Island, about 60 nm.  The winds soon die, but not before we catch two fish:  A spanish mackeral, which we keep, and a barracuda, which we release.  None of us is hungry enough to eat barracuda caught so close to a reef, even thought the locals tell us that barracuda is tasty enough to risk a little food poisoning.  Ha!

Then the good times change.  A dark cloud that has been following us catches up and begins to unload its pent-up anger and moisture.  I have the crew dose the sails just in time.  The winds increase and clock around, a sure sign that a front is moving through. 

The trip all night long is brutal!  Stores in the cabin that have been here-to-for properly stowed are now on the cabin floor. Items on deck that haven’t moved the entire trip are now in need of relashing—in the wind and nasty seas.  This was the first real test for my crew.  Fortunately, they proved themselves.  During Tennile’s 9 – midnight shift, the belt on the autopilot breaks.  In the wind, rain and rolling seas, she immediately moves to take control of the wheel. I go down below to find a new belt.

Daylight finds us close to the narrow, shallow channel into Harbor Island.  I put one person on deck watching for obstacles; one person plotting our course on the chart; another person watching intently the depth sounder; and I am at the helm, responding to the information they provide me.  It works.  We are at anchor in the quiet harbor on the leeward side of Harbor Island by midmorning, and in to town before noon.  We can’t do much for a while, as the storm that we sailed through has taken out the island’s electrical system.

Harbor Island is one of the oldest settlements of The Bahamas, founded even before the United States was a nation.  The locals inform us that their ancestors were former slaves from the Colonies.  They are still for the most part dark-skinned, whereas their close neighbors to the north on Spanish Wells are mostly white, former British Loyalists from New England.  We find this to be essentially true.

Wednesday June 22, 2005.  About mid-day we take the Sirius II for a sail to the northern part of the island where we have been advised we will find excellent snorkeling.  Wrong.  What looks like rocks, aren’t, and there aren’t very many fish to be seen.  We did find some live coral, though, which made the trip worthwhile.

That night we return to the Marina at Dunmore to listen to the folk and rock singer Ithalia Johnson (PO Box EL 27078 Harbor Island, Eleuthera, Bahamas).

Thursday June 23, 2005.  Depart Harbor Island at what we determine to be nearly high tide to sail the narrow, shallow northern route to Spanish Wells.  Many first-time users of this passage hire a professional pilot boat to guide them through this.  After a thorough study of the chart, and with my now experienced crew, I determine that we can safely  negotiate this channel.  We do, arriving in Spanish Wells just about lunchtime.

The architecture of Spanish Wells still clearly shows the 200 year-old New England influence.  The town is neat and orderly and most buildings are newly painted, in bright blue, green and pink hues.

The name, however, dates back to the time of Spanish exploration when sailors were sent ashore to get fresh water from the island.  How they negotiated the narrow, shallow passages without benefit of charts, compass, GPS, etc., will always be a mystery to me. 

So, what happened to these wells?  Now the only water available here at considerable expense is water made from the sea by reverse osmosis.  And if you prefer a stronger beverage, it is necessary to take a ferry to the liquor store on nearby Eleuthera Island.  This is a very busy ferry.

Friday June 24, 2005.  We anchor for the night in the narrow channel entry-way into Spanish Wells.  Re-supply with ice first thing in the a.m. and underway by 9:00 for some snorkeling at Egg Cay and the wreck of the Arimora. We spend the night anchored in a Bay at Royal Cay, where we also explored some ruins ashore.  Bad choice.  Attacked by no-see-ums.  They especially like Tinnele, but all three of the crew are badly wounded.

Saturday June 25, 2005.  Out to sea to do some sailing and fishing.  Another bad choice.  No wind.  So, we head toward the town of The Current on Eleuthera Island, where the guide book talks about a nice restaurant.  Not so, not since Hurricane Andrew (over 10 years ago), so say the locals.  So we go into the local mom ‘n pop store, buy a few things for lunch, and go back out to the Sirius II to enjoy.

To avoid a repeat of last evening’s infestation of no-see-ums, I choose to anchor in an open roadstead where there is no nearby land.  Another bad choice.  Soon after nightfall the wind shifts from east to the west, which is wide open to the vast expanse of the Northeast Providence Channel.  Waves are hitting us broadside for several hours.  A very rolly night on the anchor.  No fun.  Not much sleep for me.

Chapter 2 Chapter 4

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