Georgetown, Exuma Islands, Bahamas to Florida

27th March - 20th April 2009

Whilst we'd been taking it easy, enjoying the fun in Georgetown, our buddies Chris and Vivian had undertaken an exciting circumnavigation of Long Island, on their power boat, Second Chance.    Spurred on by information from locals that there was "no way a boat of their draft could possibly pass through the shallows south of Thomson Bay", they went anyway.    With much tidal planning and depth sounding of the channel, which they marked with their own buoys, they succeeded and had gone on to visit some of the more remote islands further east.    We could only dream of many of the spots they had reached, as they were no place to venture in Anju with her two metre draft!
In true Chris and Vivian style, they had arrived back in the Georgetown anchorage half an hour before a beach rock'n'roll party, where we all danced late into the night.

Next day it was time for "Show and Tell", the girls compared their respective hauls of beach treasure and worked together on their craft projects.

All too soon it was time for Anju to start the 700 mile trek northwards again, we had a date with an airplane to the UK.    We wanted to make another stop, this time definitely only a few days, at the Exuma Park, for a spot more volunteering.  We hoped to stop at Cambridge Cay for a night on the way north too.    

Girls, just where are we going to keep all that treasure??

Headed north in a total dead calm, on the deep side of the Exuma chain, suddenly our trusty new motor just stopped.     Captain Phil rushed below to investigate, whilst Christine kept an eye on things on deck, to make sure we didn't drift into Staniel Cay.    Nothing obvious was amiss so, in desperation, we turned on the supply from all three diesel tanks (normally we only used one at a time).    With no wind to keep us out of trouble, we needed to get the motor running quickly before the tide began to carry us towards danger.    We turned the ignition key and our new electric, self-bleeding fuel pump did its job, the motor started and we were underway again.    However, we were now nervous about approaching unknown Cambridge Cay through a narrow reef-lined channel, when we still had doubts about the motor.   Instead,  we diverted straight to Warderick Wells and took the only available mooring in the beautiful, secluded south anchorage.

Later investigation revealed the cause of the problem, which turned out not to be a mechanical malfunction at all, but human error.     Obviously if you had took your fuel supply from one fuel tank and accidentally switched the surplus fuel return to a different tank, the fuel tank supplying the diesel to the motor emptied very quickly, at which point the engine would suddenly stop.  Potentially, unless discovered in time, the surplus fuel could have quickly overfilled the other tank.    We had never had this problem on the old engine which somehow ran for decades with no surplus fuel return pipes at all!    Out came the marker pen and the supply and return valves were labelled in HUGE letters. 


Our problems solved, we had the afternoon to explore the small island beside the anchorage, which we had never visited.     We spent a couple of interesting hours investigating the strange landscape of rock with eroded holes filled with dried sea salt.   We also enjoyed a wonderful snorkel amongst beautiful, brightly coloured corals right there in the anchorage.


Phil goes exploring 

Next day Judy quickly found us a mooring near the Park Headquarters, keen to get us back to work.   We spent a few days making repairs to the Park's fleet of boats.   One day, we were despatched with George from Seaquel, in one of the Park boats, to Shroud Cay for a spot of sign erection.    We made a stop on the long trip north to drop off fellow volunteer Bruce at Cistern Cay, where he would be working.   

To reach "Camp Driftwood" on the eastern side of Shroud Cay we had to navigate our way through the shallow mangrove-lined channel across the island.   It proved no easy task handling the relatively large boat around the tight and shallow bends but George's excellent helming got us there without running aground.    Next, we carried the sign, the concrete, the water to mix the concrete and all the tools up the steep hill to the correct location.     A spot had to be found where, not only could the sign be read easily from whichever direction visitors approached, but where the ground had something other than rock, to allow us to dig holes for the sign's frame.   By the time the work was complete and we were ready to head back, the tide was very low, making navigation through the mangroves even more tricky.    Phil stood on the bow directing us to the deeper water and finally we escaped the shallows.    

In the anchorage at Shroud Cay, there was little evidence of the supposed "credit-crunch" as we wove our way through around a dozen Mega-yachts on our way back to the Park!    Perhaps that was where all the missing money had gone!

George and Phil's handiwork

Just what is he planning to do with the shovel?   Dredge a channel?


We had to make a stop at Cistern Cay on the way back.   It appeared that the low tide had taken the local conch population by surprise too, as the beach was littered with young conch, left high and dry.

Our other major volunteering task for the Park during that visit was to be assisting with the traditional Easter Sunday Pot Luck lunch on the beach.    The day turned out to be incredibly hot and we were almost fried whilst lugging tables and chairs and setting things up.   We were definitely grateful when Tom and Judy invited us into their house for a cool drink until the ham and turkey provided by the Park were cooked.        

Where did the sea go guys?

Easter Sunday Lunch

When they were ready, Phil and John set to work with electric carving knives (thank goodness) and after an hour of carving, they had produced several huge platters of meat for the feast.    We staggered down to the beach with the mountain of food.  We were joined by thirty or forty cruisers and their pot-luck contributions of side dishes and desserts.    It was quite a feast and a lot of fun.

The next day it was time to get underway again and we headed out eastwards into the Exuma Sound, bound for Eleuthera.   

Only a couple of miles out we had a very close encounter with a large whale.    First we spotted the telltale spout of water, as the whale surface to breathe.   We then watched in awe as the huge animal, longer than our boat, passed right in front of our bow, before making a U-turn to swim back for a second look.    

We had picked a day when we could actually sail across the Exuma Sound.   However the last 10 miles into Rock Sound was a different course and, of course, straight into 20+ knots of wind and pretty unpleasant.

We hid out there for a couple of days, in water little deeper than poor Anju's bottom, through another blow before setting sail again.

Close Encounters of the fifty foot kind...

Al Shaheen safely through Current Cut

We had a lovely forecast of 15 knots of easterly wind,  dropping off later in the day, which promised a delightful sail to the NW.   Unfortunately the reality was nearer 25, gusting higher, and after the catamaran in front of us blew out their mainsail and returned to port, we began to wonder if ours was the only boat out there.   

This proved not to be the case.   We were delighted on reaching the somewhat rolly anchorage near Current Cut, to find OCC friends we hadn't seen for several years, John and Jenny on Al Shaheen.  

Passage through the Cut can be tricky, as the tide rips through the narrow passage between the rocks.    We took our boats through the Cut together and then spent three days anchored with them at Royal Island, waiting for weather to make the crossing to Florida.   We were disappointed to find that you could no longer go ashore due to development on the island.

It was probably fortunate that there was nowhere to go from the anchorage by dinghy.    During our only trip up the harbour to take a look at the new developments, our propeller decided it was time for it to part company with the rubber shock-absorbing liner on the shaft.   This left us some distance up the harbour, with an outboard engine, which when you applied revs turned only the shaft, the propeller and the dinghy stubbornly remained motionless.    We managed to limp the dinghy at very low revs back to our yacht.   Again Superglue came to our aid and the rubber liner was temporarily glued to the propeller, allowing us to at least venture over to visit our neighbours John and Jenny at low speed.    Whether the two sections of the propeller would ever be able to be parted again for a proper repair was a subject of debate but at least we weren't stuck aboard Anju in the meantime.  
We'd been waiting for huge Atlantic swells to calm down before our departure for Florida, a trip of about 200 miles.   We knew the first, exposed leg of the trip between Royal and Grand Bahama Islands was going to be lumpy.  The 8 - 10 foot swells quickly found everything we hadn't stowed properly.     We enjoyed a calmer day at sea once in the lee of Grand Bahama Island and finally landed our first Mahi Mahi, in fact our first fish of the trip.    It had been a poor year for us for fishing, lots of hits but plenty of lost lures and broken equipment.  It seemed the fish we were encountering were just too big or too cunning.

We started the Gulf Stream crossing over to Florida in the middle of the night.    Again, we'd been promised 15 - 20 knots of wind but ended up reefing at 4 am when the dial suddenly hit 35 knots.  After a half hour of trauma, by 4.30 am Christine, the watchkeeper, was dreaming of a home that didn't move at all.   Fortunately the feeling was short-lived.

The Captain's decision to keep our speed up and make an earlier landfall at West Palm Beach proved to be an excellent one.    We surfed downwind through the breakwater into West Palm Beach and dropped our hook next to speedier Al Shaheen around lunchtime.    A couple of hours later, the forecast apocalyptic thunderstorms hit the anchorage and we were glad to be safely anchored.    Fortunately the Immigration Regulations in West Palm Beach allowed us 24 hours to get to the office and check in after phoning, so we didn't have to risk life and limb in the appalling weather.  
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