Miami, Florida, USA - Georgetown, Bahamas

13th - 23rd March 2008

Although, after a period of stronger winds, sea state in the Gulf Stream was a little bumpier than we would have liked, we decided to make a break for it and head across to the Bahamas straight away.    We were eager to make it over to the Exumas before the next forecast strong easterly blow, rather than being left stuck in Nassau.  

We crept out of the Miami anchorage at low water, again with inches to spare and motored through the Government cut out into the Atlantic Ocean.     

The waves were no deterrent to the Captain who was eager to deploy his fishing gear as soon as we reached deep water.    Our luck was in and we bagged a couple of mahi-mahi  whilst in the Gulf Stream current.     We couldn't hang around when reeling in our catch after slowing the boat or we'd be heading north at a rate of three or four knots with the current!


Bye Miami.

The crossing was otherwise fairly uneventful, if a little uncomfortable, and by lunch time the sea was beginning to settle down.     The area was busy with shipping heading to and from the USA and one particular cruise ship passed in front of us, a little too close for comfort.   The floating city seemed to pass painfully slowly in front of our bow as we held our course and headed straight for them.    

Close encounters of the Carnival kind

Sunset on the Bahama Banks

By mid afternoon we were passing Bimini and heading into the shallower, beautiful clear water of the Bahama Banks.   On the Banks the water was so calm that we could happily have anchored for the night in comfort, but ever conscious of the need for speed to make progress before the next unfriendly weather, another overnighter was on the cards.  

Through the night the banks were remarkably busy with shipping traffic of the shallow drafted variety, mostly small freighters, local fishing boats and private yachts.    As on previous crossings the trip was peaceful, lit by the stars and our navigation lights reflecting off the brilliant white sand a couple of meters below the keel.

Around 3 am we approached the scary narrow channel between the reefs at the end of the banks, of course, there was the usual confusion on board as we failed to locate the charted NW Shoal light.  It seemed that nobody had got around to fixing it after a powerboat used it as a way point a couple of years ago and ran straight into it.  We became more stressed when a big red buoy which suddenly appeared out of nowhere on our electronic chart couldn't be located.   It seemed it may be a figment of the programmer's imagination.  

The final joy in this scary spot was a nerve-wracking encounter with a freighter coming up behind Anju.   It crossed from our port side, to our starboard side then came closer and closer as we got near to the narrow cut back into the deep water of the Tongue of the Ocean.  Finally, our fingers gnawed to the bone, we called on the VHF radio.  The helpful watch officer's reply was "I'm a really big freighter" (really no kidding!)..."you got to stay out of my way".   We were naturally keen to stay out of his way too but as he kept zigzagging and then headed straight for us we were perplexed at how to stay out of his way!  In the end we just stopped and drifted until he removed his really big freighter from the vicinity.

We'd hoped to reach the deep water around dawn for lowest stress and maximum fishing opportunity but despite leaving Miami much later than on previous occasions, we again arrived too soon for both.

By early afternoon we (and five cruise ships) were in Nassau town.  We requested permission from Harbour Control, as required, to enter the harbour, stating that we needed to anchor and clear customs.  On our previous visit our request had been for permission to sail through the harbour to clear customs in Georgetown.   That time we had been instructed to tie up on the cruise ship dock, where there was a distinct lack of anything to which to tie a little-bitty yacht, and clear in.  Now we were told we HAD TO go into a Marina to clear in.  We asked if we could tie up on the big dock to clear in but apparently that was no longer allowed. In the end after calling the only marina we knew in Nassau and being told they were full, followed by a general call on channel 16 requesting any marina with space to call us back, we gave up and anchored.  The Captain dinghied ashore and cleared in without any problems which was strange when it was so strictly forbidden!

Apparently Nassau was full of drunken tourists and later the harbour was full of tour boats filled with drunken tourists and so we decided just to stay aboard.   We watched with interest as a Haitian sailing boat sailed in and was escorted onto the very dock where it was no longer permitted to clear customs.   The sailing skills of the Haitian crew were pretty impressive.

Our neighbours in Nassau, one of which looked all too familiar!

Haitian sailing boat

Early next morning we were under way again, to cross the Yellow Bank.    We didn't have the best conditions as the sky was cloudy and the sea choppy which wouldn't make it easy to spot submerged reefs through a five mile section of the bank which was littered with shallow coral.    Luckily by the time we reached the dangerous section, the sun was up and the sea calmed down making the reefs easy to spot from Phil's vantage point standing high on the bowsprit.

We spent a rolly night anchored near Shroud Cay before pushing on next morning to Big Major's Spot anchorage near Staniel Cay. 

Reef spotting on the Yellow Bank

We knew we would be stuck in Big Major's for several days until the next batch of strong headwinds passed by.   It would be such a hardship to be stranded in paradise!     Our first priority was to don our snorkelling gear and head out to the Thunderball Cave at slack tide.    We were not disappointed.    As on previous visits, the cave was teeming with multi-coloured fish of many different species.    We even spotted a lion fish hiding behind a rocky overhang, which was a first for us.    Around the outside of the grotto the coral garden was an amazing sight.    We were finally beginning to feel like all the hard work on Anju was paying off.

Phil enjoys the first glass of home made water, estimated cost about $4500!

Of course, life aboard was never all play.   It was time to finally commission our newly installed Spectra watermaker, now we were afloat in water of a more attractive clarity.    We made the final few outstanding connections and then switched on.   It was such a delight to find that a new piece of equipment aboard which ACTUALLY worked first time

We ran the watermaker for several hours, finding it remarkably light on power consumption, running happily with only the wind generator and solar panels  required.  Then it was time to back-flush the membrane with fresh water from the tank which apparently would stop bugs growing in the watermaker between operations. We followed the instructions for back-flushing to the letter and then, naturally, the whole things stopped working. 

Now we were panicking.  Not only was our expensive new water maker not working anymore but also, if we weren't able to backflush it, in five days the membrane would be ruined and very expensive to replace. It seemed the salt water feed pump had stopped working.   After much tearing out of hair and re-trying of the system without success, the First Mate's suggestion was that somehow, we'd sucked a vacuum into the pump. Of course this idea was disregarded by the Captain and a speedy trip was made ashore in order to tele phone the manufacturers. 

Finally we tracked down a technician, our Bahamian dollars ticking away in the payphone, and talked through the problem. "Sounds like you've sucked a vacuum into the pump", we were told.   By this point, the First Mate was too stressed even to mutter "didn't I say that?".  It transpired that we had plumbed in the backflush fresh water supply incorrectly.  Apparently, we were told, it stated four times in the manual to plumb into the pressurised side of the fresh water supply, not just to the tank.  We were given instructions on how to sort everything out and rushed back to the boat for a spot of late night plumbing.   We felt that maybe we weren't as stupid as the technician implied and went back to our manual to double check.  Our manual did not have even one mention of plumbing to the pressurised system, never mind four.  Anyway finally all was well with our new watermaker and to everyone's relief we would be able to wash as often as we liked and drink as much tea as normal!
Our forced extended stay in paradise meant for the first time in over a year, we sat and frittered away time enjoying ourselves, doing crosswords, playing dominoes, socialising with new OCC friends Ken and Judith on Badger's Sett.   It took a little practise to remember how to be lazy again but in no time at all we were professional layabouts.

The delay also allowed us to catch up with Pat and Liz on Catspaw, who sailed into the anchorage.  We hadn't seen them for almost 2 years. We took a trip together to the beach to visit with the pigs who lived there.  Liz brought along a snack for said piggies and was chased ashore from her dinghy by three very large, hungry pigs! Two tiny piglets came out to play too and were obviously well trained by mum in the art of begging food from cruisers as they were already competent swimmers!

Liz with hungry pigs in hot pursuit!


Junior swim class at Piggy Beach

This was not one of Christine's better domestic goddess days. Essential supplies were running low (OK the Captain was running out of cookies), so reluctantly she set about baking some more.

Miraculously they came out of the oven looking just perfect, Delia Smith and Martha Stewart would have been proud!  Unfortunately the chef quickly realised on sneaking a quality check taster, that she had inadvertently selected salt instead of sugar from the storage rack and the cookies were indescribably disgusting in taste. 

Not too disheartened, the chef set to work again. After all it would be dangerous to deprive the Captain of cookies.  This time she decided to make oat cookies. However, what came out of the oven was more like toasted crumbs of sweet horse feed and only edible with a spoon. It tasted delicious but definitely couldn't be dunked in the Captain's tea!   At that stage in the baking experience, the chef decided to give up baking, maybe permanently...........
The day's disasters were not yet over.  Whilst climbing aboard the dinghy to head to Catspaw for an OCC curry night, somehow her little finger got trapped between the steel ladder and the back of the boat.   Afraid even to look, we ran for ice (thank goodness for our freezer), which was hurriedly applied. After a few minutes of nausea and dizziness, Christine was well enough to head over to Catspaw, finger wrapped in ice. Gin and tonic was also quickly administered by nurse Liz. Next day the finger was remarkably OK, a little purple and sore but otherwise fully functional and nail intact. We obviously found the right treatment combination!


Ocean Cruising Club Curry Rally aboard Catspaw, with Badger's Sett and Anju.

Next morning, excited by the forecast of weather which may allow us to reach Georgetown, we moved Anju to Black Point, ready for an early start the following day.   After securely anchoring, we decided that a spot of beach-combing was called for. Phil had spotted a new small beach on the chart, which we hadn't visited and we worked out how to get there.   We had the entire beach and its bountiful treasure to ourselves!   We found seabeans, plenty of sea glass and right there, lying in the middle of the beach, a huge and beautiful Flaming Helmet shell. 

Anju anchored at Black Point

Christine's Black Point Treasure


After all the excitement we needed a dip in the clear blue sea to cool off.  We then prepared for an early night ready for a dawn start. The townsfolk had different ideas, however. It seemed that some kind of religious event was taking place and we were treated to a free, high volume and mostly unintelligible sermon blasted out into the anchorage. Perhaps the locals felt we needed to be saved. Alleluia! 

First light next morning found us pulling up anchor and heading through Dotham Cut into the Exuma Sound.    Fishing lines were deployed again and we followed the deep water drop off in the hope of finding some fish.   In fact all we managed to do was lose and expensive lure on which the steel leader had gone rusty during our time in the yard.

As we approached Great Exuma Island, we knew we were now in the same area as our friends Chris and Vivian on Second Chance and we were excited to get a call on the VHF from them.   They were anchored behind a rock off the main island and Chris and their two visiting grandsons Alex and Andrew came half a mile offshore to rendez-vous with Anju as she sailed by.    Chris couldn't wait any longer to show off his new tender, a good sized hard bottomed fishing boat!    We arranged to meet up in Georgetown the next day.

The entrance to Elizabeth Harbour in Georgetown was pretty tricky but we'd entered many times before and were confident in our waypoints.     Perhaps we were a little too confident as we cut the corner into the harbour, following a previous GPS track on our plotter, only to find ourselves surfing sideways in a large swell which appeared from nowhere!    We decided at that point that in future we'd stick to the official Explorer Chartbook waypoints, no matter what corners we'd successfully cut previously!     Finally, only a year late, we'd arrived safely in Georgetown and anchored at our favourite spot in Monument Bay.

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