Heading North Through Eleuthera & The Abacos
Our weather window for our passage north was approaching so it was time to get, well, north. We hadn’t planned to stop in Eleuthera because of time constraints, but Spanish Wells was by far the most convenient stop-off point between the Exumas and the Abacos, so we went for it.
We had to sail- well, motor-sail- across the Exumas Bank and it was super shallow and full of coral heads. The sky was overcast and the breeze was up so visibility wasn’t great either, making the passage a bit of a nerve-wracking one. We tried to have one of us at the bow as a lookout but it was pointless; the coral heads weren’t visible until we were almost upon them anyway. We ignored the Navionics charts altogether, which might as well just scrawled the words “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” across the chart. The Garmin charts were unerringly accurate which took some of the stress out.
We made it to Eleuthera in the early evening and sought to find protection from the southerly winds. They weren’t strong enough to be dangerous, but not light enough to be ignored either: around the 20 knot mark. Salah beat us there and anchored in the first possible spot, but having looked at the charts I was doubtful of the protection that particular anchorage would afford. As we motored around the point and the anchorage came in to view, I was proven right; it was choppy enough to show white caps on the water but for some reason that didn’t prevent about 8 boats anchoring there. We were tired, the other possible anchorage was 5 miles away and we reasoned that if all these boats were putting up with the crappy conditions here, the only anchorage in the area that showed protection from southerly winds was likely to be packed. Nick wasn’t keen but I gave him the Look that said, “I’m not happy about this and I will continue to be not happy about this all night long, particularly if I get a bad’s night sleep which let’s face it, I probably will and I won’t let you forget it.” We turned around and left the anchorage.
Nick made it very clear over the next 5 miles that if this next anchorage was no good- which was entirely possible; there were only 2 Active Captain reviews on it and our cruising guide ominously left out any information at all- I was solely to blame and spending a total of two hours motoring around looking for an anchorage at the end of a long day was a sure way to put us in a bad mood. The charts showed some pretty shallow patches, which was why Salah hadn’t attempted it in the first place, but we had just enough depth and soon enough we were at our destination.
It was flat calm and had exactly one catamaran anchored. We immediately radioed Salah to come and join us and we- especially I- couldn’t help but feel a little smug that we were going to have a wonderfully calm night while all those other boats sat out the blow at the first anchorage. It’s possible that the shallow depth put one or two of them off, but most of them were catamarans so probably not. Just another example of herd mentality I guess.
The next day we dinghied over to Spanish Wells, the town. It was very hot and still windy, and we had no idea where we were going. We tied up against the quay, and were quickly told by a friendly local to move because we would be in the way of a car ferry- which turned up only minutes later and proved to be little more than a raft with a motor attached to the back of it. It was run by three identical-looking men in Amish-style clothing who confidently handled a big jeep-type car (I’m no good with cars…) onto the narrow platform and away they went. We were quite amazed.
There was mention of hiring a golf cart but perhaps no-one wanted to be the one to insist we paid the money, or perhaps no-one wanted to admit that they couldn’t be bothered walking, because this suggestion was ignored. We regretted the decision only minutes later as we trekked around the island looking for a supermarket in the oppressive heat, very aware that every step was taking us further and further from the dinghy. We found the supermarket at last, glad for the moment to simply be somewhere that was air-conditioned, and after stocking up managed to get a lift back to the dinghy with our groceries. The driver even stopped at the liquor store so we could pick up some beers. Happy days!
Our Last Stop in the Bahamas!
Our next destination was the Abacos, and it was another long day of motoring. It was hot and muggy and uncomfortable. Late afternoon the rain finally came, breaking the humidity and giving us some relief. We anchored just inside the cut for the night and the next morning moved on to a little island called Sandy Spit, which wasn’t really an anchorage but was supposed to have good snorkeling.
We had kind of given up on snorkeling in the Caribbean. The coral and sea-life has been disappointing; what was surely once beautiful coral reefs teeming with tropical fish has now often been destroyed by the human impact on this area, and now you’re more likely to find dead or dying coral with only a few fish. It’s been a little depressing seeing the affect our presence has had on the marine life in this area. However, we hadn’t been swimming in a few days and I was keen to make the most of it while we could; soon we’d be in the USA.
Well, it turned out to be the best snorkeling I’d done in the Caribbean. As I’ve made clear, the bar hasn’t been set particularly high, but even so. It was all healthy and there was plenty of marina life to look at: big schools of fish, turtles, spotted rays, and even a black-tip shark which I didn’t see- thank God- but Bo and Allison did. They didn’t tell me until after we got back in the dinghy. It transpired that Allison freaked out (understandable) but when she tried to make for the dinghy to get out of the water, the shark was in her way, so instead she turned and stayed with the rest of us and I was none the wiser. I don’t think they’re dangerous, but still. I’ve only just gotten used to nurse sharks and they’re practically like the lazy cats of the sea.
Next stop was Hopetown. We lingered about a mile away, just off a resort called Firefly for two nights because Bo and Allison had been here the year before and had a life-changing burger. Now, I have a strict Never Turn Down A Burger policy but I was a little sceptical. We only had a few more days in the Bahamas before we had to leave; was this really the best use of our time? We were, after all, going to be in the States in less than a week and if there’s anywhere you can find a good burger, surely it’s there. But we stopped, we went, we ate and ohmygodthatburger! I will never doubt Bo and Allison when it comes to finding a good burger again.
Hopetown is a pretty and quaint little town full of colourful weather-board clad houses surrounding a lagoon on one side and the ocean on another. It would be the perfect place to have a holiday and I was a little regretful that we hadn’t been able to show Nick’s parents this area. The lighthouse is perhaps the only tourist attraction per se, and we dutifully climbed the never-ending spiral staircase to the top. It’s one of the few manual lighthouses left in the world, which is interesting (I guess..?) but the real point of the hike was the magnificent views from the top.
We made an overnight stop at Man of War Cay which is host to a typically Bahamas-gorgeous beach. Bo bought along their SLR (I’ve been verrrrry lazy with mine this season…) and, willing to go to any lengths to get a fun, Instagram-worthy photo, Allison and I frolicked- badly- in the turquoise water and pulled some yoga moves- badly- on the soft white sand. Once again there was a pretty wide discrepancy between the glamorous shot we were aiming for, and the actual photos that were taken.
Finally it was time to leave the Bahamas. Our feelings were pretty clear: we were ready to leave. I don’t really even know why. There’s no doubt that the Bahamas are lovely. We’d been looking forward to exploring the Bahamas for as long as we’ve had the boat (this photo, taken in the Exumas, inspired us to buy the boat in the first place). However we left feeling like we probably weren’t going to come back. I’m not sure I can put my finger on why. I guess we’re just ready to find a different type of cruising ground. I thought the Bahamas was going to be remote, serene, isolated, gorgeous- perfect. They were certainly gorgeous, but as I said last week, beauty comes in so many forms that it’s impossible to say the Bahamas is more beautiful than any other Caribbean destination. As for remote and isolated, well, we didn’t have a single night that we weren’t joined by at least one other boat. After two years in the Caribbean I’d expect nothing less, but I had hoped for a bit more isolation that we’d experienced so far. Definitely not- the Bahamas is a very popular cruising ground and getting away from the crowds proved impossible for us- particularly in the Exumas, Eluthera and the Abacos. Additionally, we were very much ready for a change of scene. We were craving city life, big supermarkets, craft beer, shopping, restaurants… the list goes on.
And so we headed, at long last, to the USA.
More on that next week.