Monthly Archives: April 2013

Settling into the Abacos and a visit (soon) to Pete’s Pub

It’s Thursday morning and we have moved into a nice little harbor, named appropriately, “Little Harbor” home of the famous “Pete’s Pub” a real beach bar, complete with palm trees, sand and all of the other features you could imagine in a romantic island retreat.

The harbor is ever so small with an approach depth of only 3′ at low tide.  As you might imagine, with Pandora’s 6′ draft, we timed our arrival today to coincide with high tide.  Coming into the channel was a bit of a nail biter as we saw less than two feet under our keel a few times.   The channel is so narrow that I’d hate to get stuck and force other boats to delay their departure or arrival.  That would not be a popular move here, I am sure.

To say that this is a small harbor doesn’t really make the point.   It’s really tight and I don’t think that there are more than about 20 moorings.  Happily, there were a few open when we arrived so that’s good.   We are so close to one of the docks that it would be easy to toss something to someone from Pandora.  I did check to see if we’d hit if the wind shifted by moving the boat in circle on the mooring and we cleared the dock by less than a boat length.

For the last two nights, since our arrival, we anchored near one of the nearby beaches, a very pretty spot.   Yesterday I headed ashore to check out the local beach as a possible shelling spot.  Given the popularity of the beaches in this area, I wasn’t expecting to find anything.  However, after a few minutes, I realized that it was a GREAT SPOT to shell and headed back to Pandora to get Brenda.  We returned to the beach and after less than an hour we had a great haul of shells including nearly a dozen sea biscuits, a sort of sand dollar.  There were many scattered around the shallows at low tide.  The live ones are black and are covered with little spines, sort of like a sea urchin.   When they die, the spines fall off and what’s left is a white skeleton.  They are very pretty.    The ones that we picked up are still a bit dirty looking but a bit of bleach and some time in the sun will make them look much better.

Our “haul” from the beach was great.  With a little bleach and some sun, they will really clean up nicely.  This is one of the sea biscuits.    They have a very intricate structure to them.   Very pretty.  When we were entering through the cut into The Sea of Abaco, perhaps better described as The “Lake” of Abaco as it’s just not that big, especially after a 50+ mile run through water that was a deep as 17,000 feet at points, our friends on Nati, hailed us on the radio.  We had not seen Anne and Dick for some time after spending a few weeks with them in Rum Cay and Conception Island more than a month ago.   They have spent some time in the Abacos in past years and agreed to go over our chart books with us to help us get some ideas on what places to visit in over the next few weeks.   We had a very enjoyable cocktail hour with them and were impressed with a tour of Nati.  Nati is a 38′ catamaran and is their full time home.   We hope to see them this summer as they may go to Maine.  It would be great if they visited us in Essex too.   

The view to shore here from Pandora is really nice.  This spot gives the impression that you are in some remote island retreat.  Of course, that impression is somewhat belied by the number of homes lining the shore.  Very pretty, never the less.  I love the whole palm, sandy beach and thatched umbrella thing.   This is the famous “Pete’s Pub” as viewed from Pandora’s bow.  I’ll bet that they sell drinks that have little umbrellas stuck in them.  Perhaps 11:00 is too early to confirm that.  Perhaps later.  Yes, later… that would be good.    And, I expect that we will be able to find our way there and back without getting lost.  Pretty close.  Well, lots to explore and I hear that the ocean is very close, just over the dunes.  I can hear the surf pounding.

I can smell suntan lotion from down below so I guess that Brenda is about ready to check out the local sights.  With that in mind, I’d better finish this post up and get the lead out, PDQ…

With that in mind, I’ll sign off for now.

To the Abacos and the next chapter

It’s Tuesday afternoon and we are making our passage from Royal Island at the top of Eleuthra to Great Abaco where we will begin the final month of our visit to the Bahamas.  We had not planned to make two long runs in two consecutive days but the weather was particularly cooperative today so we decided to head out for the 50nm run.  While yesterday’s 40nm run was a pretty long day, it was across the banks and in protected waters.  That sort of run has it’s own challenges as it took us across some very shallow banks, mostly under 20′ deep and through a great number of coral heads, some only a few feet below the surface.  For a while avoiding these reefs was sort of like running a slalom course as I changed course moment to moment to stay out of harm’s way.

The good news is that with the clear waters of the Bahamas as our guide, seeing the coral heads was quite easy, assuming that the sun was shining, which it was.   These “heads” grow up out of the bottom and show like a sort of “ink spot” against the surrounding blue sandy bottom.    The contrast, under the right conditions, was marked.  This shot clearly shows how these dangerous spots show up.    What doesn’t show is just how many of them there were.  Happily, with some exceptions, they were separated by several hundred feet of clear water so avoiding them was easy even if it required constant vigilance.

While staying away from these heads was a bit of a worry, the wind was favorable for a good passage.  At the end of the day we had only run our engine for about 45 minutes and covered over 40nm, a good day’s run.  Last evening we were happy to discover that our friends and fellow SAGA 43 owners, Ginnie and Ted aboard Firecracker were in the same harbor so we invited them to join us for cocktails.  We had a great time sharing our experiences from the last month or so since we had seen them in George Town.

As I mentioned in my last post, we spent some time, three nights actually, at a really nice resort marina, Highbourne Cay Marina.   It was a real treat and the only time on this trip that we have spent any time in a marina, beyond Rum Cay which was free and didn’t count.   Highbourne Cay Marina is a first class spot and it was a real treat to have high quality meals and stay in such a lovely spot.  Pandora, while a decent size boat, was a peanut compared to the other boats in the harbor and for our first night, was the only sailboat.  I understand that one of the largest sports fisherman boats there, perhaps 100′ or so, was owned by the Bacardi family of Bacardi Rum fame.  There were some boats that were even larger so Pandora was clearly the dink of the marina.

On one of the evenings the chef and crew of one of the yachts put on a lovely outdoor feast for the owner’s guests under a beautiful gazebo , complete with tiki lamps and lovely flower arrangements.  At the end of the evening we saw some of the children making smores on the grill.   So, that’ s how the other half, no, make that the 1/10% lives.  I would do that.  My mother used to say that the wealthy were miserable but based on what I have observed on this trip, it isn’t always true and she was just trying to make me feel good.

Interestingly, the only reasonable way to get supplies to the island is by boat and the one that services this island is a 1920s vintage Chesapeake Bay Oyster boat. The owner told me that he brought it to the Bahamas over 30 years ago when he was in his 20s. The contrast of this vessel to the massive yachts was very marked.  Getting anything to these islands is a major effort and the prices reflect it.

However for a price, and I won’t go into what that price was except that it was a lot more expensive than dropping our anchor in some secluded anchorage, we were able to enjoy a few days on this wonderful island.   Perhaps this shot of Brenda reading on the beach, says it all.

Actually, she was reading from high up on a bluff overlooking a two mile beach, half of which was meticulously raked every other day to keep it looking fresh and clean.  And, let me tell you, plenty of stuff washes up on these beaches each day, some natural and some man made, or should I say, “man discarded”.  They even went so far as to line the paths to the beach with limestone walls.  What a great attention to detail.   We will be back.

Well, perhaps I should head back up on deck to keep an eye on things.  Brenda’s not feeling great as the swells are pretty large so she’s taking a nap and only the autopilot is keeping things moving.   Only another 23nm to go of our 50nm day and we will be in our first Abaco anchorage.   We are very much looking forward to our time in what is called “the Near Bahamas”.

In the lap of luxury at Highbourne Cay Marina

It’s Friday morning and we are tied up in the Highbourne Cay Marina ( on Highbourne Cay at the nortern tip of the Exumas  waiting for a cold front to come through with some nasty thunderboomers.   The sky is grey and the wind is picking up.  Happily, after this front comes through we are promised a week of wonderful “spring Bahamas weather”.  Given the lovely summer sort of weather that we have enjoyed much of this winter, I am looking forward to even better weather now.

The year round variation of temperatures in the Bahamas is less than ten degrees.  However, in the winter the winds are stronger and are influenced by the gales off of the US east coast.   As winter turns to spring, the weather here moderates as it does up north.  This is good for us as the Abacos, the most northern islands in the Bahamas, have much windier weather from December through April than do the rest of the Bahamas.   As a result, many cruisers opt to visit there in the spring and spend the earlier winter months in the southern portions of the Bahamas.    With the spring weather we too will head north to the Abacos.   The islands in the Abacos are much more developed than the areas that we have been cruising so far so our last month in the Bahamas will offer more civilized opportunites and we are ready for that.

Our visit to the Highbourne Cay marina is our first time in a marina since Rum Cay and our first time in the Bahamas to pay for a slip.  However, as it’s been weeks since we have been anywhere with even a rudimentary grocery store and laundry so we decided to treat ourselves with a few days tied up in a protected marina.  Another good reason, beyond the desire to be pampered, for tying up in a marina is that this cold front is expected to be accompanied by some nasty squalls, and being tied up in comfort beats being buffeted at anchor by 50+kt winds.  Somewhat north of here the winds are expected to be as high as 70kts which is a scary thought.

We chose Highbourne Cay as it is also home to one of the best restraunts in the Bahamas and our dinner last night bore this out.  The restraunt, Xuma, is an open air spot overlooking the neighboring islands and the views of the setting sun last evening was spectacular.    The evening was so nice that there was a camera crew shooting some footage for a travel program highlighting luxery getaways.  A two bedroom cottage here goes for $1,000 a night in high season, a bit above the Pandora crew’s pay grade.

The grounds are lovely with very nice buildings and well kept docks.

They even have nice spots to grill out if you are so inclined.

The nearby two mile long beach is spectacular and perfectly groomed regularly so it’s free of debris.  They even provide thatched umbrellas for you to lounge under.  Not bad.  Believe it or not, even the paths to the beach are raked and are lined with stone walls.  Very civilized indeed.

Of course, this spot, being so tony attracts some well heeled visitors.     You can get to the resort, and the entire island is a private resort, with your own boat.  Or, you can come by seaplane, one of which landed just ouside of the marina when we were coming in.

Speaking of coming by boat, Pandora is like a canoe compared to some of the other “boats” in residence.     We had a nice talk with a crew member of this huge yacht Dreamer, last night at the bar and heard that the launch forDreamer, Olivia, was brand new and cost $400,000 with her tripple 300hp outboards.   Dreamer is nearly new being built in Turkey in 2011 for a guy out of NY.  Of course, he’s in finance.  It seems that the recession didn’t hurt everyone.

There was also a massive go fast yacht, a sort of 150’ speed boat, that came in briefly last afternoon to discharge it’s bikini clad passengers who were dancing on the bow to disco music.  They were dropped, some dozen of them, at the dock for a visit to the bar.  Following afternoon cocktails, they were whisked out, by launch, to the yacht which had anchored outside of the marina where they all showered and dressed for dinner.    An hour or so later they returned, by launch, dressed to kill and ready to party, compliments of the owner who looked like he couldn’t be a day over 40.  Happily, my back was to the action as the view would have been even more difficult to ignore than it was for Brenda who was facing them.  Of course, Brenda kept me entertained with a running commentary of the antics of the revilers.   I expect that they are running a bit slow this morning.  One can only hope.

Well,  all isn’t totally perfect here today as it’s cloudy and a little cool (a relative term) given the approaching front.   However, all the better for a nice walk. We wouldn’t want to sweat too much, would we?

And, now for something completely random.  How about a shot of one of the iguanas , some up to 20 lbs, at nearby Allen Cay, where we anchored the other day.   These guys are very used to people and are always ready for a handout.  Yes, I was as close to him as the photo suggests.

Oh yea, speaking of wildlife, I almost forgot.  Yesterday we bought fresh grouper filets from a local fisherman.  We’ll have them aboard Pandora for dinner tonigh.  A guy’s gotta eat…

Bahamas land and sea park

For the better part of the last week we have been exploring inside the borders of the Bahamas Land and Sea Park, one of the many protected areas here in the Bahamas.  These are no-take zones which means that you can’t fish or take anything out of these areas.  As a result, there is an abundance of fish life on great reefs that you can explore.   I went snorkeling a few times and had a great time.    Because of fishing you rarely see grouper and lobsters in non-protected waters.  Here, there are plenty because they are protected.  Interestingly, when a grouper gets distressed, they make a loud grunting sound.  It’s pretty funny, and loud.

On one dive I saw a nurse shark as well as a more intimidating reef shark that looked like it could easily have made a portion of me into a snack.  He wasn’t nearly big enough to big enough to have gulped me down but he certainly could have taken a good chunk had he been so inclined.   I have to say that I hitched my breath when I saw him swimming by and looked up to see where my dink was.    Not so close…  Happily, he continued on and swam slowly away.  They say that shark attacks are very rare but somehow that’s not much of a comfort when a shark is 20′ away.  I don’t know if he saw me and I certainly wasn’t going to do anything to announce myself.

I took a lot of great photos but am only sending a few as we haven’t had any internet or cell coverage  in some time and the only way that I can post is to do so over the SSB radio which is very slow and can’t handle large files.  I was stressing the system, I am sure, by sending three photos.  Oh well.

This queen trigger, about  a foot long, was just the most elegant creature.  She/he didn’t seem to be particularly concerned with my following for a photo.   I wonder if there are any King Triggers, and if so, do they mate?  Hmm…

I also saw quite a number of lobsters and it was amusing that they “charged” me albeit slowly when I approached them.    I guess that they know that they are not going to be broiled any time soon.   A park is a good place to live if you want to avoid being seafood.  Here fishy, fishy…

On Monday, after a terrific Easter Sunday celebration pot luck at the park warden’s home with perhaps 50 or so other cruisers, we headed over to Shroud Cay, another island in the park but one that is primarily a mangrove swamp.  There are channels meandering through the mangroves with water, at least at high tide, that is impossibly clear.  The roots of the mangroves make the most amazing sculptural sight.  The ariel roots help the plants roots get enough air and help excrete excess salt.   These are very tough plants and are critical to keeping islands from washing away in storms.   In fact, mangrove swamps are a great spot to tie up a boat to avoid a hurricane as they are very solidly rooted and you can tie up to them and be safe from a storm.  They also break waves and keep wind down.   Me, I am not planning to test this out any time soon.

At high tide we took our dink into the mangroves and crossed over to the ocean side of the island and enjoyed one of the most beautiful beaches we have seen so far.  For two hours we walked from one end to the other.  The soft white sand contrasted beautifully with the blue sky and water.  It’s hard to believe that we could have such a beautiful beach to ourselves for our entire walk.  What a sight.

We have been invited over to a friend’s boat for cocktails tonight, which will be fun.  We will have to bring our Conch Horn, a large conch shell with a hole cut in the top.  You blow into it, like a trumpet, and it lets out a great sound.  Blowing the conch at sunset is a great tradition in these parts.  Brenda’s very good at it am learning too.   We are looking forward to showing our stuff at the Essex Yacht Club this summer.

On Wednesday we will continue to head north and will probably stop at Highborn Cay, home of one of the best restaurants in the Bahamas.  A really good dinner out will be a treat as there aren’t many good spots to eat in the Bahamas and very few in the Exumas.   Actually, there are only a few places to eat at all in these parts.

Friday we will have to be sure that we are in a good spot that is very well protected as there is a nasty front coming through that is expected to bring with it very strong thunderstorms.  Last night we watched lightening flash to the north for hours just after dark as a particularly strong line of squalls headed by.   I understand that some of these squalls packed winds in the 50kt range.  I guess that we are due for this as we have only had rain twice since arriving in the Bahamas three months ago.
Wish us luck.  I am glad that I have a good anchor and lots of chain.  Fingers crossed.