Saturday, 18 January 2014

Intra-Coastal Waterway and Bahamas. Travel report No 66

Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW) and Bahamas

Travel report No  66 . For all the pictures go to White Admiral Gallery 66
Written by Diana on Pitcairn Island Dec 30th, 2013

Back to St Augustine.

The storm in London on 28th October caused our plane to be three quarters of an hour late in arriving at Miami. This left us with only one hour and a quarter  to go through immigration with its questions, photograph and finger-printing, pick up our luggage, give a form to customs, check in the luggage and ourselves once more, find the terminal, go through another security check  and board the plane to Jacksonville.  Thanks to friendly officials (have they been to a Smile–course recently?) we were ushered into fast lanes and tracks and to our surprise found ourselves in our seats as they closed the doors of the plane! In Jacksonville, after another pleasant surprise of finding that our luggage had also made it, and realizing that we had not eaten for hours, we de-stressed with a glass of red wine and a sea-food salad at the bar of the airport’s American Diner, before bundling into a taxi. An hour or so later, we arrived at the St Augustine Marine Center with a load of Wall-Mart groceries, got through the code-locked gate and found White Admiral waiting for us with canvas in tatters, but otherwise in good shape and surprisingly clean after the hurricane season.
The next couple of days were spent in the usual routine of getting everything back into place for sailing, and Stein doing some engine work. The parts which we had ordered before we left in April were, as so often happens, not correct and had to be re-ordered.  One of these arrived two days later, but the other would have to be collected further South on our way down the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW).  White Admiral was hoisted into the water as planned on 30th October, and later the same day our faithful sailing companions, Anne and Knut from Arendal, joined the crew. While Stein was getting the engines ready, the rest of us had one day to be tourists in St Augustine, the oldest city in USA, which we did it in the most touristy way possible on a jump on-jump off bus tour. This proved to be a rather pleasant way to view the historical buildings, while rattling along in the sunshine between stops.
Back on the water at St Augustine Marine Center

Intra-Coastal Waterway.

On 1st November we were ready to go. To get to the Bahamas from USA, the Gulf Stream has to be crossed, something which seems to strike fear into small boat owners here, as all maps and sailing guides are full of warnings and advice about how and when to do this. We decided to go south along the Intra-Coastal Waterway to West Palm Beach, where we would pick up the re-ordered spare part for the engine, then cross to West End on Grand Bahama, about 70 nautical miles, hopefully an overnight sail. The weather forecast was not promising, several days of fresh winds ahead, and as we motored out of our dock space, the wind and current immediately caught us and pushed us into the next boat. Fortunately we managed to push off without doing them any harm, and more fortunately they were not at home to yell at us as we almost damaged their vessel!  Once out in the channel, we motored along the well buoyed waterway, rather relaxing for Stein and me as Anne was happy to steer for long periods at a time.
Anne at the helm, Diana calling the bridge operator on VHF Channel 9
For four days we made our way South, sometimes in narrow channels, but more often on broad lakes where we could put up the genoa, and enjoy sailing in a fresh, beam breeze with almost no swell. We had to pass under many bridges, some high enough for our mast to pass under, although still many that we had to call to open for us. As when we made the opposite journey half a year earlier, we were impressed by the service and friendliness of these bascule bridge operators who usually opened on demand ((VHF channel 9). We even managed to time the passage so that we could sail under a couple of them.  At a few we had to wait for the opening time,  which could be difficult keeping still in the often brisk tide or current. 
One of the many bascule bridges along ICW that open on demand. At busy intersections, like going 
through large towns, they open twice or three times per hour.


Before dark we would consult the guide and find the nearest anchorage alongside the channel to stop for the night. One feature of the trip that is not so well-known is the abundance of wild-life in and along the ICW: Birds are everywhere, especially pelicans (mostly brown, sometimes white), terns, gulls and herons, king-fishers and ospreys (fish eagles), and in the water dolphins in pairs or larger pods are almost everywhere. We even saw some manatees. In fact, seeing one of these large and strange animals caused the helmsman to lose concentration and we went aground for a few minutes. Fortunately, it was skipper Stein himself at the helm and no one else to blame!
We had decided to reserve a berth in a marina at West Palm Beach, to be able to stock up with supplies, collect the spare part and fill diesel and water before leaving USA. I organized this by phone and also phoned the immigration authorities to inform about our imminent departure from the country. To our surprise we were told that all was now well and no need to meet up anywhere in person. And have a good trip to Bahamas! We all know how difficult it is to enter USA legally, arriving by boat you also need a formal Visa, but leaving is surprisingly easy. Maybe they were glad to get rid of us?!

Aground at West Palm Beach.

On arriving at West Palm Municipal Marina, we were waved to a berth on the outside of the northern docks, and as we approached it, to our horror we stopped dead in the sand! Trying to reverse off in the stiff following breeze did not cause us to budge, we just rotated broadside to the wind. The marina employees might have warned us about the shallow area! They sent out a man with a mask to look under our boat and give us the not very surprising news that we were indeed well and truly stuck, and we were told to wait for rising tide in a few hours. We had planned to do a big shopping before dark, so Stein rowed out a long way up-wind with an anchor and a rope and we managed to pull ourselves first bow to the wind and then into deeper water using the anchor-winch in manual mode. The marina was a very ordinary place, but supplied us with the required showers and internet, and a convenient place to do our shopping with the help of a Haitian taxi driver who had to support 11 children both in Haiti and USA on his modest wage. We felt a bit sorry for the man and also had him drive us around for more shopping for a couple of hours the next day.
After shopping the last day in West Balm Beach with our Haitian taxi driver
On the afternoon of 6th November, we were stocked up and ready to sail to the Bahamas, and to our delight, after a week of heavy weather, this was the one night with light winds! This gave us a pleasant night sail in a light north-easterly breeze. The Gulf Stream caused some lumpy seas in the middle, but compensated nicely for our leeward drift. Towards morning the wind became very light and we had to motor the last few miles. Anne and Knut do not have much experience of night sailing, but in the good conditions they were happy to take a good long watch, making it an easy night for Stein and me. Early the next morning, we motored into Old Bahama Bay Marina at the very west end of the Bahamas –an area actually called West End. This was more like it! A well maintained marina in a pleasant resort with palm trees, swimming pool and white beach, in addition to clean showers, laundry, fitness room, free bicycles and kayaks - definitely a place to enjoy a few days relaxation (apart from the cost, which was pretty stiff, but worth it!)
We are in Bahamas and are serving fresh lobster for lunch!
(A local cycled past and offered them from a bucket shortly after we arrived.)

Grand Bahama Island, Freeport and West End.

Stein’s cousin, Stein,  or “Twostein” (Stein is «Einstein»!)  or “Buster” as he is more fondly known as, arrived late the next evening by taxi from Freeport, bringing his usual monster suitcase full of goodies, including whole smoked salmon, ingredients for pizza and buns, chocolates  and a bottle of Fernet-Branca. His taxi ride was not without excitement, the driver having to use a torch as there were no headlights working and no road-lights, and eventually running out of diesel! (The driver had to sleep in his car outside the marina!) Stein  soon made himself at home in portside stern cabin, having been aboard several times before, and having also sailed with Anne and Knut a year earlier in Panama. With Buster aboard the atmosphere is never dull, he is always ready for a laugh and a drink!  We decided to take a trip to Freeport to see what the second city of the Bahamas after Nassau had to offer. With Stein left to do odd jobs, the rest of us took the bus, which had to be ordered to come from West End village the last 5 km out to the marina, and filled up with local people as it drove through the flat landscape for an hour and half to the city. The Bahamians seem very pleasant and polite, most of them wishing us good-morning and some also giving us a blessing.  But the city itself turned out to be a disappointment, a flat sprawling American-like place with scattered shopping malls and fast-food outlets, though not unpleasant with lots of trees and flowers. On the advice of a friendly local lady we took another bus to the Grand Lucayan Waterway, a channel which splits Grand Bahama island in two. The southern end of this is where most of the tourists on the island stay. This was more interesting, although yellow and purple souvenir shops and restaurants was not exactly what we were looking for. 
Stein "Buster" and Knut are being proper tourists at the south part of the Grand Lucayan Waterways in Freeport.
After some strolling and a little souvenir shopping, we made an expedition to the big, excellent food shop and stocked up enough food for a few days sailing. Back at the bus depot, the expected bus never came as scheduled, but it did not take Buster long to get a good offer from another driver to take us back to our marina. Going through West End we also purchased lobsters and conchs from locals at the beach.

Little Bahamas Bank.

Grand Bahama is the most north-westerly of the Bahamas, with a huge shallow lagoon, the Little Bahamas Bank, to the north. Our plan was to sail across this to an islet called Mangrove Cay, then down to the main island again to meet my brother Jim who was arriving at Freeport Airport on 12th November. We checked out of the marina on 10th November, and in a gentle breeze picked our way through the channel into the shallow lagoon which has an average depth of about 4 meters – good to have a catamaran, especially as our echo-sounder was temperamental and we often had to measure the depth by old-fashion method using a lead and a line. Our cheap digital chart on the iPad however proved to be absolutely accurate, at about £13 for the whole of USA, this must be the best value for money we have ever had! Until mid-afternoon we sailed lazily across the lagoon’s blue water with fishing line trailing, then anchored off the islet’s west coast, a not very promising looking place with bushy mangroves and hardly any shore. All apart from me took the dinghy to explore the possibilities, but came back an hour or two later with not much to recount – not possible to get ashore and little interesting marine life to see (although Stein came face-to-face with a turtle).  So off we went again the next morning with no more shore expeditions, and sailed south to the northern end of the Grand Lucayan Waterway.

The Grand Lucayan Waterway.

We had read about this area which has a huge, failed multi-million-dollar project with miles and miles of channels dredged and walled, where luxury homes were planned, but for various reasons, including legal problems about foreigners owning homes and the financial crisis in USA, only a few homes were built.   However, it is a protected place for yachts to enter and tie up, and it looked as if it was not far to walk to the airport so in we went. It was indeed a strange place, flat scrub land with long concrete-walled channels stretching miles inland.
View of the end of one of one the many side-canals from the mast. We tied to trees on both sides. There was hardly any traffic on this road, and certainly no taxies. The trees in the background are dead from a bad hurricane a few years ago.
We drove the yacht far in to a dead end to get near a road, and tied up to trees on both sides of the channel. Then Anne, Buster and I walked off to meet Jim at the airport. From the tourist map it looked as if there would be about an hour’s walk to a large highway called the Great Bahamian Highway which went to the airport and where we could surely get a taxi or a bus.  We set out optimistically along the road, but it would be difficult to imagine a more desolate area, forests of dead trees for miles on either side, damage from the last big hurricane a few years ago. We were glad when we came to a large motorway as expected after a long walk, but how very odd, there was no traffic on it, in fact the place was absolutely deserted!  We continued walking along this in the direction of the airport, but after a while it came to a complete stop in the middle of nowhere. Maybe this was not the Great Bahamian Highway after all? We retraced our steps and tried to get further south to another big road, but ended up totally lost in a maze of small roads with almost no houses or cars. We rang the bell of a couple of houses, but apart from barking dogs there seemed to be no people around, perhaps only suspicious Americans? At last a car appeared, and we were now so desperate that we jumped into the road, arms outstretched and two black guys stopped to hear of our problem. They were on their way to check a job they had done on a house, and they happily took our offer of 30 dollars to drive us to the airport. We understood that this whole area is part of the failed plans to develop the area. I knew that Jim would be anxious if I was not there to meet him at the air-port, as we had missed all his calls and e-mails due to no mobile service in the lagoon, so when he appeared from the plane we were both very glad to see each other.

Jim, Diana's brother, arrives after what became quite an expedition for Diana, Anne and "Buster". Knut is the ferry-man.

Back to Old Bahama Bay Marina.

By this time we had lost faith in Grand Bahama as a very attractive destination and given our relatives who are visiting in Spring instructions to fly somewhere else! But we had now to make the best of things and chose another island, Great Sale Cay, as our next destination.  This was a pleasant day’s sail north-east in a freshening breeze. We anchored in a large well protected bay on the south side of the island, and the next day woke to a full gale. This day was spent exploring the island, round the bay was a rocky shore, but on the west side after fighting through the dense shrub, was a beautiful sandy beach. Trouble was that the wind was so strong it was difficult to walk upright and blowing sand was stinging our legs. Different experiences are all part of sailing! Fortunately the wind had settled by the next day although still a fresh north-east breeze, and we decided the best place to go was back to the lovely marina at West End. 
Sailing back to Old Bahamas Bay and testing out the storm jib and the smaller jib (instead of one of the two genoas) wing-and-wing in the fresh tail-wind. Also known as sailing butterfly - appropriate for a yacht named after one!

 This meant a fast sail with the wind, again with Anne as the main helmsman/woman, and we also had an easy place to get to the airport for our guests who were soon to leave. 
The channel out of the bank is very narrow and with hardly any navigational markers (taken by hurricanes), but our Navionic charts on the iPad were surprisingly accurate.


Depth or echo-sounder is essential for safe navigation in shallow waters, ours frequently fails when we most need it (below 3 m depth), and until it can be repaired we have to rely on the old lead-and-line way of measuring the water depth below. Here Knut is doing the job on starboard bow and shouting out "2,5 m!". Below 2 m we get nervous, but will only go aground at about 1,1 m (3,5').
First to say goodbye were Anne and Knut, and although we agreed it had not been the greatest of their sails with us, we had still had lots of fun and as usual enjoyed each other’s company. And although Bahamas so far had been a little disappointing, the Intra-Coastal Waterway was even better than expected.  
For the next couple of days, Buster, Jim, Stein and I borrowed bicycles from the marina and explored the area. The nearest village was West End, a typically poor Caribbean village with friendly locals, where we could buy conch shells and tropical lobster.  The landscape is flat with dense bush, but the lagoon is beautiful with its shades of aquamarine.  Stein enjoyed some longish trips in kayaks and with the depth seldom more than 1,5 m could see marine life like sting-rays quite easily. Going south  from the marina is another failed project, mind-boggling in its megalomanic absurdity. This was a 4.9 billion dollar project(!) begun early this century by an entrepreneur named Ginn.  It was fascinating to cycle round the area, where there are roads with traffic signs, concreted channels into the land where houses would be built, plots of land laid out with infrastructure in place for electricity, water and telecommunications, an airstrip and a golf course designed by Jack Niklaus!  Apart from a few beautiful homes beside the marina the whole area lies deserted, optimistically waiting for new owners, but so far a massive failure. Ginn is apparently in hiding!
Strange landscape of unfulfilled dreams near West End.

Heading for the Abacos.

Buster left us on the 15th November, to have a look at Nassau on the way home. Jim still had a last two days and he thought it would be interesting to visit the local Anglican Church in West End on the Sunday morning. We all turned up to find there was a harvest Thanksgiving Service already in progress.  It was interesting to see the locals all beautifully dressed up and hear the choir with their great voices, but after we had listened to a sermon about how we could improve our personal behaviour  for a boring 40 minutes we found it was time to slip out quietly. 
Jim ready to return to wintery Oakville, Canada.
Jim left on the early morning bus on the 18th, leaving the rest of the month for Stein and me to take White Admiral to Spanish Wells, an island farther south-east in the Bahamas where we had arranged to have her stored and given an estimate for a paint job.
There was a good weather forecast for the next two to three days, so as soon as Jim’s bus was out of sight we paid our bill, filled diesel and motored out of the marina. Half an hour later we were back as I had left my sunglasses in the laundry where I had done a last load before breakfast! Luckily they were still there. There was not much wind, so we had to motor-sail cross the lagoon back to Great Sale Cay, where we anchored in the large bay in the dark. With the moon shining across an absolutely calm sea, it was a magical night and we could not help reflecting how the same place can be so different with nature’s changing moods. We pulled up the anchor again before dawn, keen to get to the beautiful Abaco Islands, and motored eastwards, arriving at Powell Cay early afternoon, where we were the only yacht anchored in a large bay with a long white beach.


Finally, a perfect beach! This is Powell Cay, but the Abacos have many like it.


 The Abacos are the most north-easterly of the Bahamas, they consist of Little Abaco, Great Abaco and a number of smaller cays (islands). After the disappointment of Grand Bahama, we were keen to see if these islands were more attractive to bring visitors to, and as we walked along both sides of Powell cay with its white sands and attractive lagoon just right for children to swim in, this certainly looked promising. 

Marsh Harbour and Hope Town.

The next day we continued south to the main town on Grand Abaco, Marsh Harbour.  We partly sailed and partly motored, especially in some of the narrow channels through the shallow water, very glad to have the sun overhead, good water visibility and a draught of only one meter.  At Marsh Harbour, there is a big protected anchorage with quite a few yachts anchored, and we found a place among them. Pleased to be back in civilization, we were soon ashore for a walk around the small town, drinks in a bar overlooking the charter boats, and free use of internet.  By this time the weather had broken down and we sat watching the pouring rain, happy to be in a sheltered place.  The wind had also picked up and the weather forecast was again not so good, but it looked like we would be lucky again as one night, the 23rd November, had a gentle north-east wind to take us south to Spanish Wells, our destination for this sailing period. First we had a day shopping in Marsh Harbour, finding the large supermarket and the large ironmonger to stock up on our various needs, otherwise the town does not have much charm. It does however have an airport and so it is a useful place for meeting people and getting supplies. 
We had seen from a guide that the little town of Hope Town, on a cay not far away looked much more pleasant, and so the next morning we motored straight into the wind, then through the narrow channel into its little round harbour with buoys for the yachts. This was indeed a lovely spot, with old colonial houses, and bars and restaurants around the water-front, and we could have spent more time here, but wanted to go south to near the passage in the reef where we would leave the Abacos. The day was blustery, but with just the genoa, we had a good sail in the protected water behind the reef to Little Harbour, another well protected round harbour with buoys for the visitors.  
View of the superbly protected Little Harbour. White Admiral is swinging from a buoy. 

The usual charge is $20/night for these buoys. Little Harbour is a very laid-back, bare-foot sort of place with a large bar where yachties have left T-shirts decorating the walls, an art gallery and only a few summer homes, another good place for our guests in April-May, so now we were satisfied that the Abacos are much better for us than Grand Bahama.

Spanish Wells.

On the afternoon of the 23rd November, we were ready to move in the good weather from the Abacos to Spanish Wells, one of the northerly islands in the Eleuthera group.  This is about 50 nautical miles across the deep Atlantic, and after negotiating the slightly scary passage through the reef, we had a gentle sail in a moderate breeze, the island appearing over the horizon at dawn – perfect! Just west of Spanish Wells is another island, Royal Island, which looked on the map as if it had a great anchorage, so we decided to spend a day there.  We had a long walk ashore and were surprised to find yet another failed project, dozens of plots laid out for summer houses, but no buyers. Bahamas is really the land of shattered hopes!
We rather regretted our decision to visit this island as the wind blew up to a gale later in the day, and the next morning our last trip for this season was a few hours of motoring straight into the gale, before we arrived at Spanish Wells. We tied up at a jetty in front of the boat builder who is going to give us an estimate for a paint job, but he was away and his secretary arranged for us to get a better berth at the Yacht Haven marina further along the waterfront. We motored along and tied up in an ungainly manner, the gale still blowing and pushing us almost into the fancy motor-cruiser in the next berth.  But the fenders took the blow and again no one at home, thank goodness!
Getting the anchor up in the gale in Royal Island before the 5 miles slog into headwind to get to Spanish Wells. Took us nearly 3 hours! (The electric motor for the winch has again broken down, good to have manual back-up!)
It was very relaxing to have a last few days to get ourselves and White Admiral organized. We had time for a bit of sightseeing on Spanish Wells, an island community with a population of about 1500, mostly white descendants of a group of loyalists who settled here after the American Civil war. A lot of the inhabitants are related to each other and nearly half have the same surname – Pinder.  It is a friendly community with little crime, everybody driving around in golf carts, wishing us good-morning and offering us a ride. Main income is lobster-fishing. We had a splendid thanksgiving dinner in the Shipyard, the one good restaurant, huge amounts of turkey and pecan pie for a very reasonable price. White Admiral was put into storage for 3 months at a private jetty and we got everything on deck packed away, so she is ready for a paint job if the estimate is more reasonable than the one we were quoted in St. Augustine.
Spanish Wells dressing up for Christmas
Splendid Thanksgiving Dinner at the Shipyard, Spanish Wells. When we came to the pecan pie we wished we had not taken soup first!
With nearly half of  Spanish Wells called Pinder, and only few have the same first name, you find some unusual names, like Mr Gurney Pinder who is in his 70's but still runs a several-times daily ferry service across to Eleuthera  (about 30 min) where he and his assistant has a mini-bus for another 30 min drive to the North Eleuthera Airport.  


On the 1st December, we were up at 4 a.m., bags packed the night before, had a quick breakfast and walked along in drizzle to Pinder's  ferry taxi and car taxi to the airport on North Eleuthera Island, the first leg on our exciting and complicated journey to Pitcairn Island, South Pacific.




5 comments:

  1. Hei Daina og Stein
    Jeg har av og til lurt på hvor dere er blitt av. Men jeg ble vel ikke overasket når jeg fant denne siden:-).
    Brit og jeg er fremdeles sammen, og har fire jenter fra 26 til 12 år. Brit er blitt glad i å seile, men foretrekker Svenske kysten :-). Jeg får innvilget en måneds permisjon hver 5 år, så da har jeg fått dekkket Antartisk, Franz Josefs land, og Grønland noen ganger. Vi hadde planlagt to måneder på loffen i Syd Amerika i februar og mars, men desverre har brit fått krystallsyken, så den turen må nok utsettes litt. Det virker som dere fremdeles koser dere i blåmyra.
    Vi planlegger seiltur i Micronesia om et års tid, så kanskje vi kan avtale å møtes der:-)
    Beste hilsener fra "Anna Christine", Wollert
    wh@sector.no

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hei Wollert!
      Dette var helt utrolig! Vi har så hyggelige minner fra seilasen sammen med Anna Christina etter Azorene, inkludert fiskebollemiddag i rom sjø sammen og nydelig kake avlevert kvelden før vi ankom Bergen 28.08.82! Det er ikke ofte jeg får kommentarer på hjemmesiden, så det er bare litt flaks at jeg så dette. Kanskje du kan skrive til meg på steinghoff@gmail.com og jeg har også mange bilder ute på Facebook - er du der? Skal søke. Vi er på Pitcairn nå i 3 måneder uten egen båt, men skal vi seile til våren - ja nettopp!- via >Azorene! Kanskje vi treffer noen nye hyggelige og crazy nordmenn som dere igjen! Brit er Brit fra seilasen?? Og fire jenter! Gratulerer, gratulerer! Noen seilas i Micronesia blir det nok ikke, men vi gjerne følge med på dine seilaser. Du trives tydeligvis i de høye breddegrader også - tøfft!!! Hilsen fra Diana og Stein

      Delete

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