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Old 21-11-2010, 17:00   #1
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Harbour Island and Spanish Wells to Hatchet Bay

Harbour Island and Spanish Wells to Hatchet Bay

We left you after a great sail into the Spanish Wells area. As is usually
the case with cruisers, we stayed for a while in that area, beginning with
our tour of the north end of the island, both on foot and, courtesy of the
Sands Brewery folks, by car, as seen in our last.

One place which has universally been described as a "don't miss" by most
cruisers is Harbour Island. The means to get there are either in your own
boat, following the Devil's Backbone, by dinghy (about a 5 mile ride, not
much worse than we had to do to go to Ragged Island), if conditions
permitted, or by ferry.

There are two ferry choices. One is to take the local small-boat to
Eleuthera, then get a taxi out to the end of the road past the north-end
airport, and another small-boat ferry (total about $50-60), or the local
fast-cat which goes there every day from Nassau with a quick stop at Spanish
Wells. The short trip is $40 RT, surprising, a bit, as the entire trip,
were you to start in Nassau, is only $125 RT. However, it beats the other
ferry choice in convenience in cost. Still, a concern for our budget...

Despite assurances from one of our cruising buddies (in a trawler) that one
could easily just follow the Explorer chart waypoints, looking hard at the
charts and being very nervous about the depths, never mind the coral heads,
with our 7' draft, we didn't much like that option. If the weather came up,
we didn't much like the thought of doing it in the dinghy, even though it
would have probably only have taken us 30-40 minutes or so. Plus, we're
still waiting for the critical repair part for our PortaBote, which would
allow us speed with our 6HP engine, still not repaired from a presumed water
pump failure, so we'd be in the inflatable with it's relatively much
hungrier 15HP engine. So...

We took the ferry. It zigged and zagged prodigiously (albeit on a faster
track than we'd have done), came within a stone's throw of the beach not
long after leaving Spanish Wells, displayed the bottom VERY clearly quite
often, and otherwise, with it's 3' draft (as measured on the markers on the
side of the bow, up to, maybe, 2 meters when very fully loaded), convinced
us, even assuming the suction effect of high speed over shallow water,
albeit probably less in a cat, that we'd made the right decision.

Some of these course alterations were 10s of degrees in a few hundred feet.
The waypoint plotting, assuming there was enough water for us, would have
been intense. Good decision!

We'd been told that the ferry would leave exactly on time, and if we weren't
there, even though they had a ticketing system somewhat like the airlines
(so they'd know exactly who was expected), the ferry would leave without us.
We were assured, in emphasis, that it would be that way if we were the Prime
Minister, so we made certain to be there early.

The fast-cat here is pretty much like any other - it had TV screens, very
comfortable chairs in lots-of-legroom rows, a snack bar and air conditioning
on the inside space - and an outdoor space with very much less comfortable
plastic chairs in rows. As Lydia's blood has thinned after being in warm
climates for so long, inside comfy seating was trumped by warmer, with
better views, topsides, which is how we knew we were traversing that very
snaky course, sometimes over very thin water!

Arrival was uneventful, and we set out to explore. We had a very definite
"the only place to eat is Sip-Sip" recommendation from the Sands folks, and
as that was right on the way to the beach via one of the few public access
places, we noted it as we went down. However, later, we realized that the
VERY posh place they took us to lunch might have given us a clue as to what
they considered "accecptable" :{))

One of the chief attractions of the island is the "pink" sand. It's very
pale, but it's not white, and it's confectionary-sugar soft. Like most of
the islands' beaches, it's ground limestone, so it doesn't get hot like the
typical silica-sand beach. Despite the rage of the prior weekend, this beach
is VERY thoroughly policed by the resorts fronting the area so there were
literally no trash or treasures to be found. It's a dog-friendly beach,
too, so we found many delighted animals reveling in the gentle surf. Of
course, we had to say hello to several, patting and nuzzling them. Portia
was VERY sniffy of us when we returned! :{))

This area has a very gently sloping bottom, no more than waist-high in low
tide for hundreds of yards out, so any surf would not be crashing as it was
on Spanish Wells' area of Eleuthera. None the less, we saw ample evidence
that the waves had come high ashore, depositing lots of sand, and pulling
the grasses down as the water came back. I'm guessing that this would have
been a great surfing spot, as the reefs were far offshore!

As we came back from the beach, we checked out the menu at Sip-Sip. Open
for lunch only, they started at $21 and worked up from there, with drink
prices to match. As we'd had our breakfast recently, and it was before
noon, we settled for a drink as we were parched from our walk on the beach.
A coke and a beer came to $11. We decided that this was not our economic
stratum, and went exploring.

Every local we talked to referred us to the Bayside Café, on the road next
to the ferry dock. After some exploring and enjoyment of the local views and
attractions, we went in. No menu - just a statement of what was on hand
that day, which turned out to be baked grouper, the ubiquitous peas-and-rice
(it's extremely rare to not have that as a vegetable with a dinner-plate
meal in the Bahamas), and carrot salad. Our Coke and beer were about half
the price of Sip-Sip, but the meal was a surprising (not what we'd intended
to spend for lunch) $15.

That said, the carrot salad was easily the best I've had anywhere, the P&R
was a very substantial portion, and the grouper was delicious. So, if you
get to Harbour Island, these are the two sit-downs which are the most

However, as we continued our walking tour, we encountered many "take-away"
locations, right on the beach road. It made us wish we'd started in that
direction (north) when we first arrived, as one of them would surely have
been our choice, given our budget. As many folks as we saw carrying the
typical white styrofoam dinner containers before we got to Bayside, it
should have given us a clue :{))

We are very much ahead of the "season" there, so most of the establishments
were still closed, but we saw several signs for Thanksgiving dinner
offerings, so it's getting warmed up. If you were to go there sometime
after mid-December, you'd find many more places open than we did. A brief
search on the internet for Harbour Island will also give you several choices
of walking tours. Well worth a visit, however you might get there, in our
opinion. Despite our gustatory budgetary surprises, we're very glad we went.

The trip home was quick, with the same course changes and exclamations over
the frequency of very thin water, along with the observation that a portion
of the trip was so close to shore you could hit it if you threw something at
it. Even more exciting was the thought that, as the helmsman made his course
corrections, seen over the bow as we watched, that we'd run headlong into
land :{))

That was Thursday; on Friday, Troubadour and we set out for Hatchet Bay.
Getting there involved transiting Current Cut, a notorious narrow passage
between a tip of Eleuthera and Current Island. It's notorious for the
riotous current which flows in that choke point - easily 6 knots at full
flow - so going at slack tide is pretty important. In this case, that
wouldn't be until 2:45PM, at low tide, which enhanced the pucker factor. As
we were only about 9 miles to there from our anchorage, leaving early would
have us sitting outside, waiting for the slack water, so we had a very
relaxing morning while we waited.

We've been getting up early to listen to Chris Parker, our weather guru, who
starts his broadcasts at 6AM. We rarely make that one, but as that's the one
aimed at the Eastern Caribbean, it's of no concern. I've been worried about
our SSB (high frequency radio we use for at-sea communications, including
email) because, despite sometimes great reception, we've not been able to
get out to stations we've tried, including Chris, and trials with our
winlink (HAM radio email) have failed to connect to any of the many stations
we tried. I just got a Skype call from a fellow cruiser, now in FL, who
reported exactly the same challenges, however, so we're writing it off to
lousy propagation.

However, our internet is so good that we've been able to both see and hear
Chris on his webcast, and due to frequency (the station you tune on the SSB,
the reception on which being determined by distance and time of day) being
of no issue, we not only listen to the Bahamas portion of his broacast, but
the North Atlantic and Caribbean Sea forecasts as well.

We'd learned that we'd be seeing higher winds beginning overnight on
Thursday, and building gradually, as well as clocking (moving clockwise in
direction) throughout the day. As we did our waypoint plotting and computing
angles, it appeared that we'd have a great sail down, but perhaps a strong
beat as we continued after Current Cut. As late in the day as we'd transit
Current Cut, we were concerned for our ability to transit the extremely
narrow (but short, and very deep) entrance to Hatchet Bay before dark.
Here's what happened:

Winds were forecast to be NNE, and clocking, in a fresh breeze. Our
location was ideal so we sailed off our anchor at 12:45, on a course to take
us around Meeks, 226*T. That put the wind at 160* and 8 or so knots
apparent, with a nice sail at 5.2-5.6 knots. The waves, pretty small, were
right behind us, making for an easy ride. Our buddy boat, however, was
starting from the Royal Island anchorage, well to our west, and they
reported lots of splash with 3-4' waves on their side.

Because 160* apparent is a bit nervous-making for the potential for a crash
jibe if there was a wind shift or wave, we turned upwind a bit, bringing our
apparent wind forward to about 150* apparent, a much more comfortable ride
which allowed our genoa to stay full, most of the time. So, we made 209*T
with a now-increased apparent wind of 10-14 knots. That made for a faster
ride, too, so we picked up to as much as 6.3 knots, a very comfortable speed
for our old lady with the 1-2' chop. This would put us well west of Meeks,
our only course correction needed before we headed straight for Current Cut.

However, the wind seemed to be backing, so we continously adjusted our
course slightly southward to keep the wind in our sails, about 150-160*
apparent, as you'll see if you look at our SPOT track
( We were also hopeful that the backing would
continue, as it would make our line to Hatchet Bay more comfortable.

However, it was also picking up as we made the turn for Current Cut at
1:50PM, so as we set our course to nearly due south, we were seeing apparent
wind at 140-150* (the increased wind, and better point of sail kept us
steadier) and 14-18 knots. A fantastic ride, we now were making 7.1-7.9
knots, in buiilding seas of 2-4', longer swells, but still pretty "square"
waves. We weren't seeing water come aboard, but it was a bit more "sporty"
ride, in brilliant sunshine.

As our trip through Current Cut would require LOTS of maneuvering/aiming (we
had a dozen or so very closely spaced waypoints guiding us through the sand
on the eastern side of the cut), we struck our genoa at 2PM, dropping our
speed to a more manageable 5.4-5.8 knots. As it was, we'd arrive before the
expected tide change, a bit nervous-making, as we'd been strongly cautioned
by everyone who'd done it before us about the current.

Our buddy boat struck all of their sails, and, having left before us, led
the way. They're not as deep a draft as we, but reported no problems
whatsoever with depth. Still, we turned the engine on at 2:15, just as we
reached the waypoint for the entrance.

Sure enough, transit of the cut was a non-event, with extremely deep draft
noted through it. There were some anxious moments as we traversed the sand
bars, seeing, at one point, 0.0 on one of our depth sounders (our sounders
are set for depth under the keel), but, in the end, we came out the other
side, and turned off the motor at 2:30.

The wind immediately on the other side was very light, due to the land
shadowing, but that quickly gave way to a srong breeze, and our rhumbline to
Hatchet Bay would put us on a very close reach. Accordingly, at 2:40, we put
our 135% genoa out to only about 110% (the clew reaching just a bit further
aft than the mast). We had a lot of heel, and were pointed very high, so,
reluctantly, at 3:15, we bore off slightly from our rhumbline to ease the
pressure. I also moved the mainsheet traveler to the extreme end, which not
only flattened our sail but allowed us to stand more upright.

The seas were building, so we pounded our way along, taking lots of white
water over the bow, nearly reaching "green water" status as we plunged and
bucked our way into the wind. With apparent wind at 18-22 knots and 45*,
every time we hit one of the waves, we lost momentum, only to pick it up
again. Still, we were making only very slow progress, so we thought it over
for a while before we made that course adjustment.

That course adjustment helped, dropping the apparent winds to only 16-20,
and increased our speed to 5.2-62. knots. Still, we were seeing 2-4' waves
on a 4 second interval, which is pretty choppy. In the meantime, with our
20-30* heel, we were taking a great deal of pressure on the newly tuned rig,
which allowed the lee side shrouds to slacken notably. The forward lower
was flapping around, which confirmed my expectation that our rig was,
indeed, not too tight.

However, I noted that there was a substantial curve on the genoa furler,
confirming my suspicions that our backstay was probably a bit loose. I'll
tighten that up a bit at a time, rechecking it as we go sailing again, to
see if that is corrected Doing so will correct my only niggle on our rig
tuning that we did, that of an apparent slight negative bend (forward,
rather than either straight or the usually-preferred slight aft) of the
portion of the mast above the spreaders, I presume. Still, we're thrilled
with how much better we sail, now, having done the tuning.

With our speed dropping to 5.4-5.8 knots, and our course correction to 112*T
to ease our pressure, we would not be to Hatchet Bay until well after dark
due to having to climb back north to get to it.. Making that extremely
narrow entrance, and finding a ball (there are free government moorings in
the harbor), will be a real challenge in the dark. Alternative anchorages
south of there were nearly directly on our line, but a great deal further as
the island rose to the NE, so we'd have to go an hour or two more to reach
any of them. So, those not being an acceptable alternative (well, certainly
not preferable), we reluctantly turned on Perky at 3:40 to add some speed.

You'll see on the tracker that we then adjusted our course to 104*T, to put
us at the harbor entrance. Our expected land shelter simply wasn't there,
as seas built, along with the wind. Still at 45* apparent, we were now
seeing 19-24 knots with occasional higher gusts, but our speed picked up due
to the slight push from our engine, to 6.2 knots.

Dead reckoning showed us there just about the time of twilight starting,
5:15 being sunset, so we felt confident in our entrance and the likelihood
of being able to see our ball. Aside from all the white water over the bow,
which finally subsided a bit right at sunset as we got closer to shore, it
was pretty uneventful. Once to our waypoint at the entrance, as we were
going directly upwind to make the cut, I dropped the main just before we
went through.

Once through, it was a relatively easy job to find our ball on the south
side. However, the wind was still very strong, and keeping the boat on
station for me to pick up one of the lines was challenging. Looking at our
chartplotter after we finally settled in was a real laugher with all the
dipsy-doodles and circles. The lines were not enhanced with a float, so I
had to reach under the ball in the gathering gloom, helped only by our bow
running lights , to get one.

Imagine my annoyance when they were so encrusted with junk that it wouldn't
slide up my hook. After a half-dozen attempts to get the EXTREMELY nasty
line long enough to secure it, I gave up and got in the dinghy. Our
"marriage saver" headsets allowed me to, after I'd picked up the line (with
surgical gloves on, it being so nasty), be able to guide Lydia to an easy
attachment, and we finally shut down the engine at 6:45, now full dark.

The line was so atrocious, and on inspection, not all that safe, in my
opinion, that I switched to the system we'd used in Hopetown, that of two of
our extremely stretchy dock lines, attached to the ball's huge shackle, and
set about cleaning up the deck, where some of the aquatic life had already
taken hold. This is not encouraging for considering the state of our hull's
bottom should we decide, like some of our cruiser friends, to stay for a
long period!!

Once on our mooring, we checked out the potential internet sites, and were
pleased to see that there were several available. Despite their being
relatively weak, the lack of umpteen competing sites with the same frequency
made for much better bandwidth, and, as is usual with our rig, we're well
connected. The usual phone calls and catching up ensued :{))

The next day, after I'd made my line transfer, I went to look at some of the
newer moorings nearer the government dock. As they were in much the same
condition, we elected to stay put, and went exploring. As is proving to be
the norm, we met some of the nicest folks ashore, learning where to find the
laundry (not open, but someone was there - we'll go back on Monday for her
wash, dry and fold service at $10 a load, just like in Georgetown), various
restaurants and...

One of the folks we met, the primary source of our directional information,
turned out to be a brass player. I got invited to sit in on one of the
Junkanoo practices; he said he'd find me a trombone :{)) We also learned
that, despite the tiny size of the community, there is a very strong music
program in the schools, and the majority of the Royal Bahamas Police Force
Band (the one pictured on the reverse of the Bahmanian $1 bill) had their
training here. That musicianship allows them, in his telling, to put on the
MOST impressive junkanoo festival of all those in the islands. He also
allowed that, as amazing a spectacle as it is, Nassau's junkanoo (see our
December '08 report on our first entry to the Bahamas for our listening to
them practice) not only has most of its musicians originating from here,
they don't hold a candle to theirs.

Unfortunately, we'll not be here for their celebration, but we can hear the
practice sessions from our anchorage, right across from a sailboat wrecked
(well, ashore) on the rocks. We'd learned from another that it's a local's,
given to them by a sailor who was leaving the area. It moves around the
anchorage from place to place during various storms. A brief drive-by in
the dinghy suggest it's not only not been holed, the remaining visible
hardware suggests that it's not been stripped. The next westerly storm will
likely move it from there in a high tide!

We'll do our explorations of the community in the next few days, including,
probably, participating in one of the local restaurants' Thanksgiving
buffet. While we're here, we'll hitchike up to Gregory Town, another "don't
miss" spot up the road about 5 miles, reports to follow.

However, as is my norm, this is plenty long enough, so we'll leave you here.

Until next time, Stay Tuned!


Morgan 461 #2 SV Flying Pig, KI4MPC
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