… well, maybe not so much. It seems the El Nino weather pattern has had an impact on the Bahamas. We were so looking forward to its clear waters and white sand beaches and connecting with other cruisers.
We did have that, but it was sandwiched in between waiting out the wind and rain from cold fronts. Now, we are not Bahamas experts but it seems to us that Mother Nature has been a little harsher than usual on the Bahamas this year. In the winter, low pressure systems routinely roll off the US coast going west to east. These can push cold fronts into the Bahamas, which bring stronger winds and rain and cold (cold for us, not for you poor sods in the snow) weather.
They cause the wind to swing around the compass and, because the Bahamas (at least in the Exumas chain) has a dearth of places to anchor to avoid west winds, require boaters to scramble around for a place to hide when the winds come from the west. You see, it is a little uncomfortable to be anchored face into a wind that has a long distance to blow across the water. This allows waves to build up which results in an unpleasant motion and can be dangerous if too extreme. Much better to have an island blocking the wind in front of you. So, each time the wind shifts around, it becomes a scramble to find a place with a new island in front of you. And then when the wind settles back into the east, you can go about your normal boating activities. Normally, as winter progresses, these cold fronts become fewer and weaker, resulting in more sunshine and less of this weather strategizing. However, this year we were treated to a mild November and part of December and then in January the cold fronts kept on comin’ and the wind kept on swingin’ and the boaters kept on dancin’. For us it got a little tiresome. So here we sit writing this entry from the Turks & Caicos, which is just south enough to have a somewhat different weather pattern. It will change more as we keep moving south.
So how to sum up our trip through the entire Bahamas archipelago in one blog post (I know, I know, we are way overdue)? It’ll be to give you a quick run through the highlights of the trip (the lowlights were hit in the last post Gale!).
We arrived at Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, the northernmost stretch of islands. Here we had good weather (before winter began) and enjoyed our time with Mike & Holly and Rob and Rose from R&R Kedger.
We next transited to Eleuthera, which is a long island on the eastern outskirts of the Bahamas. We saw very few other cruisers and it is mostly a non-touristy island. This is the home of the famous pink sand beaches. We were pleasantly surprised that in fact they really were pink and even better there was not a soul on them.
From Eleuthera, we crossed over to the Exumas chain of islands – the holy grail of Bahamas cruising.
The Exumas consist of over 300 small cays strung together on a chain about 130 miles long. The centerpiece is the wonderful 22 mile long Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, where no taking of sea life is permitted. Here all manner of creatures can be seen and approached because they have not developed a fear of humans. It’s a truly wonderful experience to dive into the water and see a small Seargent Major fish swim up to your goggles to check you out just like you were planning to do to him. Without those hunter and hunted instincts, you almost seem like equals. The snorkeling is fantastic in the Exumas, complete with underwater caves right out of a movie (literally, in the case of the Thunderball Grotto, which featured in two James Bond movies, “Thunderball” and “Never Say Never Again”.
At the southern end of the Exumas is the cruiser mecca of Georgetown. This is where so many cruising dreams hit their end. There are literally hundreds of boats here and many never leave and a lot stay here for the entire season.
These cruisers are done seeing new places and faces, and are living a watery life in a stationery spot (well, almost stationery – they do a sort of mini mass-migration every time one of the aforementioned fronts come through from one side of the big bay to the other to avoid the wind). We chose to anchor in the middle and just ride it all out. If you have faith in your anchoring gear, 25 knots of wind driven waves is no big deal. Many of these folks were affected by the Exumas Derecho and it is understandable that they would be gun shy.
Well, we were not huge fans of Georgetown (evindenced by our lack of photos of the area). Its true the boaters there could not be nicer, but its just not our cup of tea. Our boat buddy Charlotte says we are not cruisers, but travelers – more interested in seeing new places than staying in one place for too long – and I think she is right. After a couple of weeks in Georgetown, we were ready to move on.
We left Georgetown and made our way to Clarencetown, a stunning little anchorage on Long Island. We were again sitting in an anchorage waiting for a front to pass by – it was threatening 25 knot winds from the north for a day or so. We thought why just cower here and wait. Like everyone else, we were a little gun shy from the big winds of a few weeks ago.
However, if it blows hard we would have rocks and other boaters around us. If there is anything we learned from the derecho, it is that being anchored where there are things to hit or be hit by is not a good idea. So we jumped off ahead of the cold front and used its big winds to drive us 200 miles to the Turks & Caicos. We figured at sea at least we’d have a way to fight back if Mother Nature got tough with us. In the end, we had a great sail with a lot of wind behind us and made great time. The front passed by us and pushed our boatspeed up to 11 knots until the wind left us and we ghosted into Providenciales. We crossed its tricky bar and got into a marina for the first time in 3 1/2 months. It felt good to be able to just relax and forget about the weather for a bit.