Sunday, 17 January 2016

Eleuthera and a Weather Event.

Google Maps of Eleuthera

   On Sunday 27th December we left Harbour Island and made our way back thru the Devil's Backbone. Since we could follow our previous tracks  on our chart plotter we did not need the services of a pilot this time. We passed thru Spanish Wells again and then had a nice but short sail down to Current Cut.  The sails came down and the engines turned on to navigate thru this fairly narrow cut in the land. The current flowing thru this area can be quite strong and if it is flowing into opposing strong winds standing waves can result. Fortunately for us a larger catamaran was going thru ahead of us. We called him on the VHF radio and he informed us that there was up to a 5 knot current against the boat. We were able to gun the engines and made it thru ok.

Current Cut

     The next day was a special day for us, our 30th Wedding Anniversary.  We spent the morning doing boat chores, I baked a cake. In the afternoon we dinged to shore and walked across to the Eastern side of the Island. It was a rocky shoreline with impressive waves crashing in.

Happy Anniversary honey!

    South Palmetto and Ten Bay where two more stops on our way down the western shore of Eleuthera.

Ian relaxing on Ten Bay, Eleuthera

    Our next stop was Rock Sound Harbour.  We had read that it was a good anchorage and more importantly had a good grocery store. We needed to restock with fresh fruit and veggies etc before heading over to the Exuma's.

Rock Sound harbour

Main street in Rock Sound

     Finally here we found some cruisers!  There must have been about 10 boats in the anchorage, finally some human contact!!   We met up with Randy and Ellen whom we had originally met back in Deltaville and also met a lovely English couple, who's blog funnily enough is on my reading list.

    Rock Sound has a small settlement with a few shops and lots of abandoned buildings ( see building on left, above ). But the people are very friendly, there was a very nice restaurant near to the anchorage and more importantly, a liquor and good grocery store.  We spent four very pleasant days here.

   Cruisers that we have met are commenting on the unusual weather for this time of year in the Bahamas. There have been a lot of cold fronts coming off the US East coast  which impact the weather we experience here.  But on our third night at Rock Sound we experienced a weather event that our weather guru ( Chris Parker, Marine Weather Center) had never seen in his 13 years of weather forecasting.

  From Wikipedia; " A Derecho is a widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind storm that is associated with a land-based, fast moving group of severe thunderstorms. Can cause hurricane force winds, tornadoes, heavy rains, and flash floods".   If I had read that description before hand I would probably have abandoned ship!   In his daily report that we receive, Chris Parker had warned of possible squalls with high winds for later that night. So we were well prepared and everything on deck was well tied down. As the sun was setting there was a strange looking bank of clouds on the horizon. Shortly after sundown there was a sudden short and intense rain fall. Then, out of nowhere, the winds were howling.  We went from a calm sea to large waves in no time. It was suddenly like being on a bucking bronco at the local bar (  no, never been on one but have seen them in the movies, haha ).   We got our rain gear out, life jackets and flashlights ready. Ian stayed out at the helm in case he needed to start the engines. I sat inside praying that the anchor alarm on our phone ( we have an anchor app that would tell us if the anchor was dragging) wouldn't sound. For the first hour the wind was a sustained 40 to 45 knots ( 75 km/h) with gusts up to 53 knots. Thats 98 km/h!  Absolutely crazy! Our beautiful Rocna anchor held us tight thru it all.  In fact, it was buried so deep in the sand that it took some maneuvering to get it up 2 days later.  The next hour saw the winds drop to around 30 knots and then finally three hours later it was calm enough again to eat dinner.

   The next morning, talking to other cruisers, we learnt that several boats did have their anchors drag, one dingy and motor was capsized and one boat had it's genoa sail partially unfurl and then tear. Most sadly, one couple lost their dog overboard and he was found washed up on a beach the next morning.

  Two days later we were fully stocked up with groceries and headed out to the Exuma's. There was absolutely no wind at all that day and a beautiful calm sea. Ian got the fishing rod out but no luck.

  Our anchorage that night was between Allen's and Leaf Cay.  Leaf Cay has a small beach where people come, not to sunbathe, but to see the many prehistoric looking Iguanas.

Thank goodness they kept their distance.

a protected species here in the Bahamas

     Since then we have anchored at Norman's Cay ( famous for drug running in the '80's) and experienced our dingy fiasco at Shroud Cay ( see previous blog). We have spent the last three nights happily tied up to the dock at the marina on Highborne Cay. This is a private Island with a pleasant marina, fairly good grocery store ( food is high on our list of  importance) free use of their bikes and several long sandy beaches which are mostly empty of people. Looking ahead we had seen two particularly bad weather days with high winds from the West. The Exuma chain of Islands, running mostly North/South do not offer much protection from West winds so seeing that we were near by it made sense to come in and enjoy the protection of the marina.  We have had a very pleasant stay, lots of beach time and excellent burgers at the restaurant. Ian even got to watch the Packers defeat last night up at the bar!

A spectacular view.

Beach, north end of Highborne Cay

         We will be heading out and south tomorrow. Our next planned anchorage will be Hawksbill Cay.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Height of Stupidity

 Yesterday we were anchored off Shroud Cay, a small Island in the Exuma's. It's claim to fame is the dingy ride that can be taken thru the large mangrove swamps- which make up most of the Island - to the opposite, Eastern, shore. I have certainly read and heard about this  and was keen to experience it myself.

 Due to some nasty looking clouds and squalls it wasn't until around 11am. that we set out. We weren't quite sure when high tide was but it looked to be around this time. We took a quick look at the chart which showed us the general direction of our route and off we went.

 It was very lovely riding along , surrounded by mangroves, not another person in sight. At times the water was quite shallow, a couple of feet, other times deeper, we could see the sandy bottom. We found our left turn easily, the "river" took it's left curve and then in the distance we could see the cut through land and out to the ocean. Our "river" now opened out into a large area and Ian mentioned that we should get our bearings for the return trip ( do you see where this is heading ).

 Well, we made it to the cut and the Eastern shore, beached the dingy and enjoyed a lovely long walk along an empty sandy beach. It was beautiful.

Looking out from the mangroves to the cut and the Eastern shore

 On our return to the dingy we noticed that the water was now flowing out through the land cut into the ocean at an excelerated rate, the tide was now going out.  We got the dingy back into the water,  started the engine and almost immediately, where as on our way in we had enough depth, the prop was now touching the sandy bottom. As we looked ahead at the large open area ( mentioned above) we could now see mangrove  shoots sticking up above the water that had not been visible when we had arrived. Obviously the tide was going out. Fast! We stopped the engine and both got out of the dingy. The water was up to our shins.  We walked ahead, pulling the dingy behind us, at this point there was enough water for it to float. Looking around, everything looked different and we realized that we could not tell where our "river" back to the boat was located.  I believe it was at this point that Ian commented that we had the combined IQ of a chipmunk!!  We had gone out into a mangrove swamp, there were no signposts out there and we had not brought along a GPS unit. The height of stupidity!!

 We knew the general direction we needed to go and so continued to walk along dragging the dingy behind us. But we could not find the deeper channel back anywhere, it was shallow all around us. As we continued on, searching for our "river" pulling the dingy got tougher as it was now bottoming out. Frequently as we walked along on the squishy sandy bottom we would suddenly sink down a deeper hole ( similar to walking thru snow drifts) and fall into the salty water.

 At some point we stopped, sat on the dingy, both pretty pooped by now, and our reality hit home. We were lost. The tide was still going out. The water was getting shallower. Next high tide would be in about 6 hours. It would be dark in about 4 hours. We had no flash light. No GPS. No VHF radio. No food. About a quarter bottle of water.

 Well. The thought of spending the night out there in our dink ( dingy) didn't appeal to me so I suggested we keep moving, somehow, anywhere was better than staying put.  We still had a general idea of which direction we needed to go. There was a small spit of land beside us which we felt we needed to get around so first we had to back track a little. We did that and then as we looked around, off in the distance ( not in the direction we thought we needed to go) I saw a break in the land and ocean, it was the Western shore, hallelujah !   It was not the opening thru which we had started our " adventure" but it would certainly do for our exit.

 We still had to drag the dingy, by now there were only inches of water, for about 400 yards. But at least now the end was in sight and we both worked hard, me pulling and Ian behind pushing that dingy until finally,  finally we reached water deep enough for it to float.

 We both fell into the dingy, found enough strength to pull the cord to start the engine and dingyed out of there and back to the mothership.

 Back on board Zooropa we were exhausted and seriously thirsty. Later that night the winds picked up and the temperatures dropped. It would have been a miserable night out.

 We have now made an extensive list of all equipment to consider before any dinghy excursion. I suppose the height of stupidity would be not learning from this experience.