Kyle continues from last post..
A staging anchorage is one of my favorite cruising tricks. Topping off our tanks and moving the 5-6 miles to Rose Island were the only things we had to do that day, nothing rushed- lots of time to talk and laugh with the locals at the fuel dock. This move saves (stages) us at least an hour ahead on our passage and prevents any harbor or traffic delays in getting underway the next morning; as well as getting the boat and crew into “Passage Mode” on the sail over. We also took a specific route into the anchorage that made for a longer trip into it, but gave us the opportunity to lay a GPS track and get our eyes on the path through the reefs we would be taking in the dark the next morning.
We went ashore for some fresh coconuts, came back to the boat and dined on a big meal. Set up everything for our breakfast, and turned in early.
Danielle and I were first introduced to Max1 at the Municipal Marina in Downtown St. Peterburg. Danielle had valiantly helped me get our first boat and home together down to FL from WI. A 1972 C&C 27 MK2 (tall rig). I had spent over 2 years revitalizing her in WI and thanks in no small part to the help and support of loved ones she had arrived in FL and was eventually launched at Salt Creek and motored into her slip right across the alley from Max1’s 1970 C&C 27 MK1. We never really spoke until Danielle left to hike the Appalachian trail and I dinghied over one afternoon with a couple beers in my hand, across the alley to make his acquaintance. Although he admired my choice to row over rather than walk and enjoyed the beers, our first meeting put him on edge slightly due to my incessant questioning, a habit that is no better today than it was then, but after some reassurance from a mutual friend, we quickly became close friends, sharing a passion for self sufficient exploration of the earth under sail. For those of you who have been following Danielle’s writing faithfully over the years (thank you) but you will remember our adventure aboard his 40’ Dufour A9000 through the western Caribbean, Panama Canal and up to Costa Rica. So Max1 and I were no strangers to sailing together and we split no hairs about our goals for his trip.
We woke at 4:30, much to Max1’s chagrin, but he was a good sport and we had eaten a big meal of oats and GORP (good old raisins and peanut butter) and with coffee in our mugs, we upped anchor at 5 and were headed out in a nice breeze. We motorsailed through the reef (1 mile travel) before turning east and pointing for Eleuthera- 45 miles to go. We were pinched up right from the beginning, but not so hard that we couldn’t sail happily along. We had good conditions and made good time arriving off the coast without trouble in less than 9.5 hours. We had aimed high on purpose, it gave us faster sailing and the 5 miles north of our intended anchorage of Hatchet Bay allowed us to survey the entire “climbing zone”.
During our survey Max1 set his sights on a large spire standing alone and about 60’ tall. Despite the fading afternoon light (we had a lovely sunset view by the way), we anchored up in the open sea and dinghied in under oars. Max stood upon the back of the boat and grabbed the wall “Let me know when” I said as we moved in the swell, he said “Ready” and lifted off the dinghy and I quickly paddled out from the wall and took up position as amateur photographer. He was delighted and climbed 30-40 ft and stood to one side on a big ledge, proud of the climb and nervous of the jump. It took him some time to get ready to leap off the ledge, but landed safely enough. I personally found it funny that the climb was of so little effort but the jump gave him such pause. For me it would have been the opposite.
After such an unexpected early success we motor to our anchorage sighting new climbing lines along the way for tomorrow and feeling quite happy with the trip already. The next day we climbed in the morning, Max1 finding another 2-3 routes up the walls on the coast. Then snorkeled some off lying boulders, having forgotten his mask, Max1 and I took turns sharing mine. I sighted a big ray, which he missed, but he got the best sunlight, while I found lots of cloud cover each time I descended.
We then came into anchor and decided to make a shore excursion and see if we could get a look at a popular big cave near the anchorage aptly named Hatchet Bay Cave. We dinghied in towards a rocky shore and threw our anchor astern as we came near, we then tied the anchor line so the boat was just in reach of the dock, after unloading both of us and backpack (we carried lots of flashlights, water, some snacks), we then walked the bow line of the dinghy up the shore. This walking up the shore puts the anchor rode at an ever increasing angle and subsequently makes the line to short for the boat to reach the shore. You then tie the line off on a tree/rock/whatever and the boat is safely out of reach of the shore and left to float serenely on its own, the anchor keeping your dinghy out of reach of the rocks, jetty, and whatever other floatsam you might wish to avoid.. Or curious walker by’s as well.
We walked out to the main highway “Queens Highway” and stuck up our thumb as we walked and not long after a nice lady stopped and offered to take us to the road. She shared some local advice and lively conversation with us for the 5min ride and then we said our goodbyes and walked down the dirt road. There is a sign on the highway that says “CAVE”. We had read the entrance was not easy to find, with some people complaining rather loudly, but that turned out to be laughable. There is a culdasac of mowed grass/brush and the cave entrance is the only path leading off the circle, it made me think that those who did not find it, should not have found it. Admittedly, the path is not big and a bit obscured by grass and brush, but it seemed pretty obvious to us.
The cave is vast, far larger than we would have ever guessed. It’s absolutely beautiful with some very large formations and interesting creatures. Like hermit crabs feeding on guano and some tiny little bats chittering. Few roaches, but not too many, I imagine the hermit crabs keep their population under control. Sadly the entire place is covered in spray paint signature graffiti, not the incredible art of an inner city, but just poorly done names and scribbles- zero talent vandalism. Many of the signatures were from visiting yachts and that particularly broke my heart. It is my opinion that every human has a responsibility to the next generation, but we vagabonding sailors especially have a responsibility to our cruising community to always be on good behavior because like it or not, we are all judged together. They say the US is the land of the free and in a business sense, we certainly are beyond compare, but due to our population density and subsequent number of visitors to these types of special places, as well as our entrepreneurial spirit, a cave of this caliber would certainly require a fee and be restricted in the US. You would have to come during specific hours and if you didn’t need a reservation, you would certainly need to pay for a guide and only be allowed to see a small portion of what Max1 and I enjoyed. But in the Bahamas as with so many of these developing counties, true freedom is at hand! We showed up just before dark, and were free to roam through every nook and cranny, touch (carefully/lightly with one finger) anything we like and generally had no-one and nothing to stand in our way of experiencing the full glory of this natural wonder. An amazing experience. After we made our way through the entire cave, you end up standing below a large hole in the ground with a random and somewhat untrustworthy looking rope ladder as your only way out. Unless you want to walk all the way back.. So we did a riggers safety check, chugging our weight down upon the lines individually, testing their strength and feeling satisfied, we climbed to the trail above to enjoy second sunset over the ocean and descending farm fields before us.
After hitching our way back to town, I had a beer at a local bar while Max1 smoked the local hand rolled cigars and watch the basketball game. Everyone is incredibly friendly and genuinely curious of us and we subsequently enjoyed ourselves fully. Before leaving we enquired around about where to have dinner and set off with some vague and seemingly random instructions. Based upon passed experience we knew we were most likely looking for someone’s house with some extra tables/chairs in the front room. We asked a couple other folks, stopped in at someone’s personal front yard BBQ, which they have all set up right against the road on impressively large double length drum grills and finally found our destination. We both had fish, but of different types and the helpings were generous and very tasty for a modest amount. The food is not as inexpensive and Central America, being that so much of the Bahamas is comparable or even more expensive than typical US prices, but once you get away from the cruise ships, it at least becomes reasonable again. We carried the table and chairs back inside the house, as we had brought them onto the porch for our dinner, said our thank you’s and headed back to the bar for a football game Max1 wanted to see “at least one quarter”. As we came in we were offered our old pair of seats and it looked like someone was sitting in one them, but we were encouraged and not 5 minutes later someone came to get the can of soda from the spot- it certainly was were he was sitting! We got up to move and he would hear nothing of it, in one sip, he finished his can of soda and walked over to a new seat. The prodominant way of drinking at this establiment was to spend $6 dollars on a small bottle of your choice and then simply buy cans of soda as you need them. This man said “I am finished! I am finished! (Holding his empty bottle) sit, sit, sit!” So we sat and enjoyed the game, me with my beer and Max1 with his cigar. The lines of loyalty to the football teams was of course a great discussion amongst the watchers and people were a bit surprised I had none. But while I played the sport quite a bit when I was young, I have no interest in watching it and consider most of it a bit over the top and dramatic. A little to “Reality TV” for me. Amazing athletes to be sure- but the game is presented in a way I can’t handle. So many breaks, so much dead time and the ads- ugh. But the reality is that I don’t really follow any sports at all. I sometimes follow a few offshore sailboat races online, I like the solo sailing speed record attempts of ocean crossings, or any of the solo round the world racing, especially their machines. Unless you’re a sailor its hard to understand or even really guess at the mental stamina and discipline to race a sailboat for 40-60 days straight, alone, in one of the harshest environments on earth. Feeding yourself, sleeping, weather routing, repairs, sail changes and of course keeping the machine moving as fast as you can at all times. I also still like snowboarding comps, or trials bikes, some of the off-road racing, things where the majority of the participants are underpaid, overworked and generally speaking entrepreneurs of their own creation- you know, real sports of passion and sacrifice- no whiners and very little glamour. Worthy of admiration in my book.
Anyways, sitting at the bar with (for me) not much to do, we were soon approached by a believer of the good book who wanted to have an in-depth discussion on the spot about our creation belief mythology. He had had a couple drinks and I expected this to go badly in a hurry, but on the contrary he was very open to listening and took what we had to say seriously and so we in turn gave him the same respect and a fun and engaging discussion was had by all.
Max1 felt as though he had seen enough of the game and was so we hiked back to the dinghy in order to go to our floating home. We both agreed it had been a complete success of a day!
When it comes to anchoring, Danielle and I have taken on the style of the high latitude sailors: we carry a our “storm” sized anchor as our main bower and use it every time we anchor and so do not carry a second bow anchor nor an anchor stored in the bilge. Our main anchor is a true “storm size” about 2-3 steps above the manufacturer recommended size for our boat. It’s always ready to roll as we never remove it, as is our kedge anchor(stern anchor), also kept ready to throw into the dinghy anytime we need to point our bow into the swell or pull ourselves off the dirt. Both anchors have 300’ of rode, the bower all 3/8” chain, the kedge some small chain and 300’ 3/4” nylon. So if we needed it, say to anchor offshore of a challenging entrance for the tide, we could easily rig 600’ for our bower or disconnect the kedge and run the line ashore for a med-moore. The stern rode is kept figure-eighted in our starboard cockpit bench and the bow anchor has a dedicated anchor locker. The point of this digression is to help you understand that with this configuration it free’s up one entire anchor locker and Sirocco being a classic design has spacious anchor lockers, so we keep a pair of folding bikes in the spare one. Since the oracle (weather app) said it was blowing 20+ knots all day and our morning coffee in the cockpit agreed with the oracle, Max1 and I got the bikes out and went ashore to explore. We planned to bike all the way to the glass bridge, about 8 miles each way. Before we left we made veggie sandwiches for lunch and stocked up heavily on snacks/water. We anchored the dink in the same style described above, but this time off the commercial stone crab peer, were we met Ralph. Ralph took us to the refrigeration building, gave us tour of the facility and sold us some fresh stone crab claws at a generous price. He was proud of the sustainability of Stone crab and the safety and efficiency of their current process. We immediately put a couple in our sandwich cooler and with a large amount of anticipation regarding lunch, peddled off. About 4 miles into our trip we stopped at “Surfers Beach” for lunch. It was a very enjoyable and beautiful spot, a wonderful offshore bar break and a small point break were the Atlantic Ocean swell could curl and blow off its endless energy. There are some hardcore “leatherback” locals who have assembled basic huts on the beach from floatsam garbage with plenty of good seating. At lunch I began to notice, I was very fatigued and had a strong general malaise. Max1 had arrived with some sort of cold brought down from the north land, but had felt he was not contagious. This proved unlikely as what followed for me was easily predicted by him based on his recent experience. We turned back and biked homeward due to my fatigue. We made a nice long rest stop primarily for me to pull myself together, at a “7 to 11” gas station/general store for Klondike bars and local people watching. By the time we got back to the boat I was basically delirious with fever and fatigue, completely overtaken and wiped out. I bundled up against the 75f degree (freezing!) temperatures and laid upon the settee moaning my agony between naps while Max1 cooked us a dinner of Annies Mac-n-cheese. After napping for a few hours before, I pulled myself together to joyously fight my way through some claws and then collapsed again while Max1 did all the dishes and cleaning up as well- a real trooper! I told him “ Thank you so much my friend!” His response “ahh, only fair for bringing this plague upon your house” -cracked me up.. Although, that may have been true, its hard to know the gestation period of an cold. The Mayo Clinic says “1-3 days” and it had been two since his arrival, but I would have encouraged him to come cold or not anyway and so did not cast blame or complain to him for it.
The next day we went on a dinghy mission, Max1 climbed 3 new routes and even snorkeled a bit. I was dinghy support man in my pants, long sleeve and sun hat – mid 80’s temps. We then went back and moved Sirocco north along the coast, stopping along the way for climbs, keeping the dink lifted up along side while underway. We sailed the entire way, sailing on and off the anchor as we went along. I made one climb up a short and simple ledge to gain the top and sat down to enjoy the view. We also discovered a sea cave and this was the first time in my life that I caught the fire and wonder of treasure hunting. The near vertical limestone coast of Eleuthera has been hollowed out right at tide level to make a nice undercut, as you might have seen in some of our photos. Well there must have been a cavity of very soft rock, or perhaps at one time a descending rain stream, because as we laid low in the dinghy to push ourselves under this ledge it opened up into a magnificent cave! 15-20ft in height with multiple caverns in front of us and beautiful color variations in the rock and even a little lagoon for the dinghy. I tell you it was straight out of the books of movies about pirate treasure and made the discovery very exciting. As we walked the 20 yards down the large cavern, there was the usual collection of roaches enjoying a life of infinite guano and while that part is certainly not pretty, it did not dull our ardor to push on to the end of it- just to make sure there was not a pile of silver to be found out of site.. haha I would imagine there are more caves located along their coast. It would certainly not be a summer wasted spent swimming along it each calm day and exploring them.
We ended our day at Pittman’s Cove. Is a very cool little bite out of the limestone coast and has a nice waterfront access to a small town (same one we had stopped for Klondikes at the 7 to 11 previously). We set two anchors to hold us in the proper position, a maneuver Max1 had never performed and enjoyed. We covered the sails and discussed dinner options. Max1 rowing ashore for his favorite Sour Patch Kids candy and soda. We made a Duff for dinner based on a recipe from a Honduran grandmothers “famous” Duff. It was honestly pretty terrible. The steamed dumpling though which is the true core of any “duff” was quite good. I am great admirer of William H. Tilman and having recently finished a collection of his 8 sailing/mountain exploration stories and hearing endless praise for the “true belly timber of a good duff” I had dreamed of this duff for a long time and so was a bit sourly disappointed.
If anyone knows of a British Duff recipe PLEASE post it in the comments. My search has been fruitless. It seems that at one time this sort of dish was so common and variable that no one seems to have written it down for todays age.
The next day we were off on the bikes again, this time it was only 3 miles each way to Glass Bridge and we would not be denied! It was a great mission with a stop at “The Queens Baths” and some seemingly risky climbing all over the Glass Bridge ravine. Quite enjoyable though and we made it back to the boat for a relaxing lunch of veggie sandwiches and fried plantains. We then went on a dinghy climbing mission and exploration of the nearby area farther north. There is a rather fancy golf club that looks hilariously out of place on the coast up past Annies Bite. We also say a little raccoon sleeping in the face of a high sea cave enjoying the sun, he never paid us any mind and seemed quite content. I was led to believe that raccoons experience a rare respect here in the Bahamas.
Back at the boat, we readied the ship for passage. Putting up lee cloths and stretching sheets on the beds, while putting everything in its home along the way. It was time to head back to Nassau and we had decided the best weather for doing so was a night passage and the moon being nearly full, we were very excited! Few things have the romance of sailing fast at night under a full moon and the weather app made it look like it would be a wonderful passage. We put together a great hearty soup for dinner and added the rest of our steamed dumpling (duff) into the soup for the last two minutes of boiling. It was really a treat and made our soup something powerful. We then took disco naps and started picking up anchors at 11pm. We were motorsailing on a nice reach in a light breeze when I went down for some sleep about 23:30 with Max1 on first watch. When I came up at just before 2am to find we were making 6+ knots I began to laugh a little and quickly shut down the engine. By the end of my watch we were sailing in the mid 6’s and surfing to mid 7’s under all plain sail over a calm sea with the moon making it seem a magical type of mood lit daylight. The wind vain doing all the work and the boat practically leaping with joy as she rushed through the water, bouncing merrily along to her song of wind and wave. When I came up at about 6am, Max1 was thoroughly enjoying himself and we romanticized about sailing in the cockpit a minute before he went below, him commenting Moitessier’s famous quote “People who do not know that a sailboat is a living creature will never understand anything about boats and sea.” He felt the wind vain and the movement and motion of the boat because of it was the pure definition of this quote and greatly enjoyed our sail. We made great time. We arrived just off Rose Island harbor in less than 7 hours, an average of over 6 knots.
After we anchored up and caught some sleep, we got out the hookah hoses and put everything into the dinghy for a dive excursion. There was a mark on the chart saying “Landing craft” and we wanted to go see if we could find it. We searched and searched and covered lots of ground, but never found it. We ended up snorkeling around the same area. During our snorkeling the wind continued to build and when we decided we were cold and ready to head back to the mother ship, it was blowing a nice 20-25 kn against the tide, which is exactly why we made our passage during the night. Opening my mouth too soon, without realizing we were being protected by the reef, I said “Lucy is going a great job out here as a dive boat- totally viable!”. As these words left my mouth we left the protection of the reef and were immediately taking large quantities of water on board and climbing 3-5’ seas in 7’ Lucy. Max1 looked at me and said “Oh yeah- totally viable”… I died with laughter. Asked him to get out the bailing bucket and scoot forward as we pounded along to windward. For the next 1.5 miles we were soaked at every crest with water and bailed Lucy for the entire ride, I was laughing hysterically “totally viable” was said 20 times or more and Max1, although not quite as entertained as I, was none the less laughing and shaking his head as we went along in good spirits. Nelly the Nissan 3.5 outboard never flinched and motored us home without trouble. Thankfully, we were wearing full wetsuits anyway and so being wet didn’t bother us. I had shuttered a bit at the thought of rowing us in those conditions, but honestly think, though slow, would have been possible- but for me, rowing hard for an hour or two holds little intimidation and I’m not sure how many others would quite agree.
Max1 and I brought the boat into Nassau harbor in a hurry with the strong wind being fair under engine and genoa. Settled into a good spot, put everything away and after dinner, went to sleep. Next morning we cleaned the boat stem to stern down below, and did our best to make her as clean as when he came aboard. Then in rather fresh conditions I dropped him off at a commercial pier, just a short distance from downtown. Max1 had by then bought himself a ticket to ride a cruise ship back to Ft. Lauderdale and would fly on from there.
It had been a great trip with a great friend! Many awesome discussion and good times with nothing to complain about (hopefully on both sides). It had been a pleasure to have him come and it was, as it should be, a bit sad to see him go. My passionate interest in all things boats and sailing is hard to handle for most folk and as such one of the great things I like about our friendship is that he is very excepting and even dare say usually interested in my constant discussion of them. A wonderful change over my average company, which finds me trying to be polite and restrain myself.. haha
I took Lucy over to spend the afternoon with Danielle and share a dinner with her on her day off. It was my first time exploring the Ashram and its a very beautiful and peaceful place. She was in high spirits and I could tell even then, she reveled in the challenge of the schedule and work to be done. They are essentially busy from 5:30 to 22:00 and its no small task what they are asked to learn and understand. We gave our hugs goodbye and snuck a soft kiss and I went back to Sirocco to get some sleep. Max2 arrived the next day. More next time!