Working Our Way North

25 March 2019   Elizabeth Island, Exumas
I find the weather in this region so frustrating.  I set the alarm last night and was up at the crack of dawn to look at the weather, only to find it still miserable with scudding clouds and a bit of rain. The forecast is for the east wind to drop this afternoon and then tomorrow there should be blues skies and very light winds.  We either go in the rain and wind today, or motor in sunshine tomorrow.  I went back to bed.

The skies cleared and the wind dropped a little during the morning, so after lunch, we motored over to anchor off Chat & Chill beach and dinghied over to Georgetown to buy some provisions.  The weather remained clear into the evening, so we’re hoping to leave tomorrow.  

And another front approaches

26 March 2019   Elizabeth Island to Black Point, Exumas
We were up at the crack of dawn and (finally) motored out of Chicken Harbour in blue skies and hardly any wind.  With 60 miles to go to Black Point, we didn’t have time to drift along in the 5 knot north-east wind, so we motor-sailed all day.

At 16:45, we arrived at the Dotham Cut where we encountered very turbulent water outside the pass caused by a strong outflowing current of 3 knots.  Low tide at Georgetown was at 17:30, so I think that the actual tide here is one hour later than the tide at Georgetown.  When we leave here we expect to have a fairly strong ENE wind, so we want to make sure that we leave at slack water otherwise there might be nasty over-falls in the pass, especially if the wind is against the current.

Once through the pass, we negotiated the shallow water, going past the crowded anchorage at Black Point settlement to an anchorage a mile further south.  We anchored at 24°04.82N 076°23.36W in 4 metres depth on fabulous white sand – it’s a lovely anchorage with two white sand beaches and best of all only five boats.  

27 March 2019   Black Point, Exumas
The weather is totally dominating our lives in the Bahamas.  Today’s forecast showed the next front arriving overnight as expected.  The wind will veer to the west at 10 knots and then overnight to the north-west.  By tomorrow night, we’ll have north winds and the following day strong north-east winds, which will last two days.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to move again on Saturday, 30th.

We had yet another review of our plans.  Originally, we were going to head west from Highbourne Cay across the shallows and then sail for two nights up the Tongue of the Ocean to Florida.  However, the gaps between the fronts are too short to give us that big a window, so we’re now going to sail Highbourne Cay across the Yellow Bank to Nassau, where hopefully we can anchor and shelter for a few days if another front develops sooner than expected. 

Walking at Black Point

It was a lovely calm and sunny morning, so we went snorkelling.  We scooted a mile or so south along to a nice little beach called Jack’s Bay, but there weren’t any obvious places to snorkel.  On the way back, I spotted the dark shape of a bommie, so we stopped for a look.  It turned out to be surprisingly good, with a large number of rocky coral heads.  There wasn’t much coral, but there were a huge number of fish and conch.

As the day grew, the wind picked up from the south at 10-12 knots.  The anchorage that we are in is well protected from the north-west through to the east, but very exposed to the south and west.  By 15:00, we had 15 knot winds from the south-west, raising 2 foot wind waves which made all the boats in the anchorage pitch violently.  It wasn’t pleasant, but all we could do was “suck-it-up” and hope that the wind veered to the north-west as forecast.

28 March 2019   Black Point, Exumas
At 02:00, the motion was still quite violent, so I got up to check that we hadn’t dragged our anchor.  The wind was still coming from the west and we were still in the same place, so I went back to bed to try to sleep. 

The motion was better when we woke at 07:30.  The wind had finally veered to north-west, but a small swell was still coming from the west. The good news was that the forecast shows the wind slowly clocking around to the north-east, so our lives will get better.

We hung about for the morning waiting for the wind to veer a bit more an then walked a couple of miles to Black Point Settlement.  There’s not much there a few small grocery stores and some bars.  A mail boat had just arrived, which was the first for ten days, so most of the locals were collecting and transporting their stuff away.  We managed to buy some fresh brown sliced bread which was an unexpected bonus.

In the evening we invited Olivier, Anny and their 5 year old daughter, Lily from “Deesee” over for a few beers.  They kindly brought us a bottle of Gewürztraminer, which they’d brought all the way from Europe.  Bizarrely, we spent a lot of time talking about skiing..

29 March 2019   Black Point, Exumas
Some squalls went through overnight and the morning was very over cast with very strong NE winds, so we spent the day on-board.  It brightened up in the afternoon, but there was still a very cold wind which dissuaded us from going snorkelling.  

Overfalls in Dotham Cut

The weather forecast looks like tomorrow will be 15 knot east winds and light south east on the following day that will be good to get us to Nassau.  We then have a 180 mile sail to West Palm Beach, which will take us 36 hours.  At the moment, it looks like there is a big enough weather window for us to make it provided that we carry on past Nassau and have 2 nights at sea – fingers crossed.

30 March 2019   Black Point to Highbourne Cay, Exumas
We woke early to unsettled skies and a 15 knot east wind.  We motored to Dotham Cut, arriving at 09:00, which was about 1½ hours before low tide.  The tide was going out at 2 knots and the wind was against it at 15 knots, so there were some large over-fall waves in the cut.  We decided to “go for it” and motored out hard against the waves, taking a few epic wall of water over the bow.  It was a scary five minutes, but as soon as we cleared the headland, we turned 45° north and we were quickly out of the current and the overfalls.

Despite there being only 15 knots of wind, the waves were steep and confused close to land, so we headed out into deeper water before coming onto our north-west course, which put us on a nice beam reach.  The rest of the days was bouncy, but we made good time arriving at the cut into Highbourne Cay at about 16:00.  

This entrance was a little scary because of the way the sea bed rises from hundreds of metres to just 5 metres, but at least we didn’t have any over-falls to contend with.  We anchored at 24°42.78N 076°49.81W in 5 metres of water on good holding sand.  I was expecting to be fairly isolated here, but we’re in the middle of a fleet of 20 boats.

Topping up with diesel

In retrospect, perhaps we should have taken the inner route across the Exuma bank.  The average depth for the trip is 5 metres.

There’s really good internet access here, so we obtained a weather forecast and unfortunately, our weather window seems to be closing up.  Tomorrow looks fine, but there’s another damn front coming across Florida on the afternoon of the 2nd April.  We now have a dilemma – do we carry on when we get to Nassau and risk getting clobbered by the front  (if it speeds up), or do we shelter somewhere around Nassau until the front has passed over and then make a dash for it on the 4th after waiting in Nassau for 4 or 5 days.  We’ll have to wait until tomorrow’s weather forecast to make up our minds - it’s so frustrating.

31 March 2019   Black Point to West Palm Beach, Florida (Day 1)
We were up at the crack of dawn to find that it was a beautiful day with a slight breeze from the south-east.  The weather forecast showed that the next major front passes over Palm Beach on the night of the 2nd April.  It looks like we should be okay to carry onto Florida today, but there’s a chance that on Monday 1st around midnight, we’ll get 10 knot west winds lasting for six hours.   

We decided that we’ll go for it and we’ll keep an eye on the weather possibly heading further south on Monday evening, to allow us to keep sailing with a west wind.  Our biggest worry is that there will be squalls accompanying the west winds – we don’t like thunder and lightning especially at night.

Having decided to leave, we put the dinghy on deck and set off just before 08:00.  There was so little wind that we had to motor all morning.  I took the opportunity of the calm water and weather to top up our diesel tanks from our three jerry jugs.  Then we had breakfast…

Dodging another coral head

Our route to Nassau took us across the dreaded Yellow Banks, which is a 6 mile wide, shallow patch littered with coral heads.  The charts show several 2.1 metre patches, so we were a little apprehensive, but we saw nothing less than 3.8m even though it was low tide.  (The middle of our route went through 24°53.95N 077°05.00W)

The worst part of the passage was negotiating the last section, past Porgee Rocks and out to sea.  There were huge areas of weed, which changed the colour of the water from light blue to dark blue.  To add to the visual confusion, the depth varied from 8 metres to 3.5 metres, so it was a little nerve wracking especially going past the west side of Porgee Rocks where one of our charts showed a shallow 2.1m patch.

By 14:00, we were in deep water and left the Bahamas behind.  After the stress of navigating in shallow water, I was really happy when we crossed the 200 metre depth contour and the depth gauge shows “Last” denoting the last reading it had – we could relax.  Unfortunately, there was still no wind at all, so we continued motoring out into a calm sea.  

The very light winds continued all afternoon and we had a fabulous sunset reflected in the glassy sea.  For the first six hours, we had 0.5 to 1 knot of current with us, but as we approached the corner of the Berry Islands it turned against us.  I tried to get out of the counter current by diverting across a shallow, 25 metre deep bank, but it didn’t seem to make much difference.

The current against us decreased to less than 0.5 knots as we headed west and it was a lovely night to be motoring.  We were accompanied by half a dozen cruise ships making their way from Nassau to Miami and then later had to dodge half a dozen going the other way.