Moving on from Bimini to George Town in the Exumas

On Sunday the 13th we left Bimini to head to the Exumas.  Even though we were in Bimini for 10 days waiting for a weather window that would give us a safe crossing of the Bahama Bank, it was sad to leave.  We had met so many wonderful people, both cruisers and locals.  We look forward to seeing the cruisers in the Exumas.

Our sail across the Elbow Bank to anchor at Northwest channel was pleasant and uneventful.  Joe aboard “Gemini” sailed along with us, and we were jealous that he caught a Mahi Mahi on his boat as we sailed.  For those of you who would like to know where we anchored, check out 25 degrees, 25.320 minutes N, and 078 degrees, 10.000 minutes W on Google Earth.

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Sailing across Elbow Bank at sunset.

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Ginnie settling into retirement!

The next morning Gemini and Firecracker weighed anchor at 7 AM and set sail through the North West Passage for West Bay at the west end of New Providence Island where Nassau is located.  Once through the North West Channel we entered the deep water, over 6000’ deep in the Tongue of the Ocean.  West Bay, our destination was a beautiful protected harbor where Peter Nygard has an incredible resort that reminded us of Mayan Civilization and the Swiss Family Robinson complex on steroids.  At night it was lit with multi color lights that were fantastic.  I tried to get photos but the boat was moving around too much and they were out of focus.  He rents this resort for $42,000 per week, but it does accommodate 24 people, we’re starting a list – interested?  Joe joined us for dinners when we were in West Bay and one night he dinghied over with a plate of cooked fish that he had caught, a little rum, a little wine.  It was a wonderful meal.  Friends Dave and Michelle on board their boat that they sailed from Nantucket arrived in West Bay the day before we left for Allens cay.  We had met them in Bimini.

On Wednesday morning we left West Bay and set sail for Allens Cay, at the north end of the Exumas.  Allens Cay is a remote area but we ended up anchoring with about seven other boats.  This island is home to prehistoric iguanas.  We understand that Devon”s mom is an iguana groupie so I’m sure she will enjoy these photos.

As we tried to leave Allens Cay on the morning of the 17th, the engine wouldn’t start.  Iturned the key and nothing, nada, no way.  It turned out to be a wire that came loose between the solenoid and the starter.  I reconnected the wire and the wonderful sound of our trusty diesel was heard once again.  Joe aboard Gemini had gone to Highborn Cay to get fuel and decided to join us for one more night in Allens Cay.

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Ginnie felt that this was close enough.

The morning of the 18th we left for Warderick Wells, one cay of many in the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park.  We picked up a mooring there as no anchoring is allowed.  The channel is very narrow with very shallow water on either side.  We hiked up to Boo Boo Hill, a spot that is supposedly haunted by souls shipwrecked on the nearby reefs.  Cruisers traditionally leave the name of their boats on a piece of drift wood, the pile of driftwood up there is impressive.  If we do this cay again we will be prepared to leave a more elaborate marker.  There are many miles of hiking trails on Warderick Wells and the other islands, in some places it looks like you are walking on the surface of the moon.  The snorkeling here was good, but you had to go at slack tide due to the strong currents.

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Boo Boo Hill, Warderick Wells

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Firecracker on the mooring in Warderick Wells.

Sunday morning we left Warderick Wells and sailed to Staniel Cay docking at the dock at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.  This is not really a yacht club, rather a resort/marina.  There are many resorts/marinas in Florida and the Bahamas that are called “Yacht Clubs”.   We snorkeled in the Thunderball Grotto, the one used to film the James Bond movie Thunderball.  You can only snorkel during slack tide, due to very strong.  Around the corner of Big Major Spot were the swimming pigs.  These pigs are famous for swimming out to your dinghy to beg for food.  We were warned to not feed them as they could get aggressive.  These were big pigs but were only hungry.

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Sailing to Staniel Cay.

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Ginnie in Thunderball Grotto

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Swimming pig at Big Major Spot, OK mostly walking on the bottom.

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Sharks that were under the boat at Staniel Cay Yacht Club.

The weather forecast was for increasing winds starting on Wednesday the23rd, so we reluctantly left Staniel Cay on Tuesday the 22nd to sail to George Town, the furthest south we are heading.  Our sail to George Town was “outside” in the ocean, 55 nautical miles.  We did this in 7 ½ hours.  Leaving to arrive in George Town on Tuesday was a good decision, it started blowing 15 to 20 knots with gusts to 25 knots after we arrived.  We are in a good anchorage here in Elizabeth Harbour in the lee of Stocking Island just off Monument Beach.

The trips back and forth to George Town by dinghy were exciting to say the least.  On a number of occasions we were drenched because of the high waves in the harbor.  George Town is an unusual place in the Bahamas.  Cruisers have good supplies and services here and many spend the winter anchored off Stocking Island.  The grocery store here is the best we have seen, having just about anything you would need.  The prices on some items are very reasonable.  But paper goods are very high, $38 for 12 rolls of Bounty paper towels, and beer is $40 to $50 a case.  Ginnie did find a good chardonnay for $7.50, and it was really good wine!

The cruisers community here is well organized with a cruisers net on the VHF radio at 8 AM daily.  Arriving and departing boats are announced, daily weather is given, activities for the day are announced, daily weather is given, activities for the day announced, and locals get to promote their businesses.  Cruisers can request help on projects or repairs needed or try to get rid of items no longer needed.  Selling or bartering goods without paying duty is not allowed, so no one ever says anything is for sale, just that they have the item.

Well it’s now Friday, the wind is still blowing and not many boats are arriving or departing.  Bob and Brenda on Pandora emailed us that they are in Warderick Wells waiting for the winds to subside so they can sail to George Town but they may have to wait until next Tuesday for milder winds.

Thanksgiving in St Marys, GA to Junkanoo in Bimini, Bahamas

I left Firecracker at Lang’s Marina on the St Marys River so I could go back to Mystic for Ginnie’s retirement party and baby sitting for the most incredible grand daughter in the whole world.  I also went home so that we could return together.

Having so many provisions and boat stuff, and our cat Oliver (AKA Velcro because he is so attached to me) to bring back, we decided to drive down to St Marys.  We arrived a few days before Thanksgiving to find the boat covered in bird poop.  Our dock neighbor had called to warn us, so we brought down a small power washer and in no time the the boat was like new.  Thanksgiving in St Marys is a 12 year old tradition where cruisers gather, the turkey and hams are cooked by the local families and the appetizers, side dishes and deserts are brought by the cruisers.  Ginnie brought a pile of her mom’s Greek twist cookies and they were a hit, with none left for us to take back to the boat.

Sunset at the St Marys River

We left the St Marys River and went out the inlet for a wonderful sail outside in the ocean to St Augustine where we entered the inlet in the late afternoon and picked up a mooring at the Municipal Marina.  While in St Augustine we had the boat hauled out at Oasis Boat Yard in the San Sebastian River for some rudder repairs.

King of Lions Bridge in St Augustine

We left St Augustine to travel along the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW). Sailing the ICW is not exactly sailing. You follow a narrow channel with limited water in many sections. It is like driving the boat down a street. The homes along the banks are often spectacular and others times the scenes of marsh grass and mangroves are remote and beautiful .Our first stop was in New Smyrna, FL where we saw our first holiday boat parade, not planned but very cool.  Cocoa, FL was our next stop, a nice town with an incredible hardware store, Travis Hardware has seven buildings, some with as many as three floors, hmmm, this could be a good place for me to spend a whole day.  Some time you’ll have to ask Ginnie about our daring ways to get fresh water here.

From Cocoa we continued on the ICW to Melborne, FL where we attended our first SSCA, Seven Seas Cruising Association, Gam.  A gam is a gathering of cruisers. We attended informative sessions related to cruising.  The sessions were great and seeing friends we have met along the way was even better.

Vero was our next port where we picked up a mooring for the night.  We were rafter with to other boats, one was Pandora, Bob & Brenda’s Saga 43 and the other was owned by a couple from New York.  We walked over to Vero Beach, a beautiful and impressive town with upscale stores.

Sunset at the Vero Bridge

Continuing down the ICW towards Ft Lauderdale we anchored in Ft Pierce and Lake Worth.  At the Lake Worth inlet we again left the ICW and sailed in the ocean to Ft Lauderdale.

Velcro enjoying an ocean sail

Oliver at sea, OK so far.

Going back up the ICW a little bit we grabbed a mooring at Las Olas Marina.  Once secure on the mooring, our neighbor asked if we were there for the Christmas boat parade that night.  Boat parade, we had no clue!  This was unforgettable, over 100 boats, lasting 2 1/2 hours .  It was truly spectacular.

One of over 100 boats in the Christmas parade.

From Las Olas we went west up the New River to Cooley’s Landing where we left Firecracker to go home for Christmas.  The New River was very narrow with fast currents.  Fellow cruisers told us about this river but you have to see it yourself to believe it.  Mega yachts up to 125′ moving up and down the river with little room for other boats.  Ginnie saw her first manatee just feet off our transom.  Taking Oliver home with us wasn’t a great idea since we were flying back to the boat so we boarded him at what turned out to be a spa for pampered pets.  He was washed, fluff dried and perfumed.  The smell drove us crazy for two weeks when we got him back to the boat.

Firecracker in her slip in the New River.

Fabulous Christmas spent at home with family, Sarah, Devon and REESE especially!!  A little snow to remind us we were back north.

We were grateful to have good friends to water the plants in Mystic.  Thank you Barry for watering the plants and thanks Bob for the ride to the airport.  Our slip neighbors at Cooley’s landing were so gracious about watching the boat while we were away.  They live aboard their catamaran with there two year old son and three month old daughter.

Once again we were treated to an unexpected surprise.  The New Years celebration was being held on the New River just below our slip.  The fireworks at midnight were great, and yes we stayed awake.  On New Year’s day colleagues of Ginnie’s visited us at the boat and joined us for lunch on the New River.

On January 3rd we left for Bimini, the color of the water in the Gulf Stream was an incredible blue, a color we had never seen before.  As we approached the shallow waters near Bimini the colors of the water at different depths change. We navigated into Bimini trying to stay in the deeper, bluer water.  Channel markers here are few and far between.

Ginnie at the helm crossing the Gulf Stream.

Arriving at the Blue Water Marina we were surprised to see friends that we met in Ft Lauderdale and St Augustine.  After helping us get Firecracker tied into our slip, our adventure in Bimini began.  We seem to have an uncanny knack of being in places with boat parades and celebrations,  Bimini was no exception.  On January 4th there was a Junkanoo (parade) in Alice Town that was fun.

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Junkanoo in Alice Town, Bimini.

Sailing between islands here is entirely dependent on the weather, after we arrived the winds started blowing from the east at 15 to 20 knots with higher gusts.  These winds  kept us here waiting for a better weather window to depart for Nassau and the Exuma Islands.  So we decided to do a little exploring.  There is a house here in Bimini that was built by Ashley Saunders.  He constructed entirely by himself using only shells, flotsam and jetsam from local beaches and donated pieces of tile.  Ashley collects conch shells, heats them for days in fires that turn the shells into dust then mixes this dust with beach sand and pure rain water to make his own concrete.  Amazing.  This man is an incredible artist.  His 20 years of effort and creativity have built Dolphin House.

Dolphin House.

Ashley and one of his many shrines.

Ginnie, Ashley & I on thr roof of Dolphin House

Ginnie, Ashley and me on the roof of Dolphin House.

Sister Jan, Bimini’s lunch lady serves lunch daily from the back of her station wagon.  Around noon she arrives at the straw market, just down the road from our marina, and offers baked, fried and BBQ chicken, mac & cheese, rice and peas, potato salad, ribs, cracked conch and salad.  Pick what you want.  She fills your plate and we share this for lunch, which costs only $7.  We have to be careful, much more of her delicious food and we may not fit down the companionway on the boat.

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Firecracker at the dock in Bimini.

We were fortunate to see a spotted manta ray jump out of the water about 4 feet,  and a variety of fish swimming under the docks.  We met some fun cruisers at Browns Marina nearby and spent many evenings with them sharing potlucks and a few drinks.  Each day we stopped by the tourism center where we were able to access free internet. Everyone is addicted to using the internet.  Everyone is addicted to using the internet so we connected with other cruisers each day.

We purchased a Bahamian phone and sim card as well as an air card to connect to the internet in remote areas.  Ginnie and I also visited the local high school and we were given a very gracious tour.  Students in each classroom stood and greeted us as we entered!

Weather permitting, Sunday January 13, we will be able to sail across the banks and begin the next leg of our journey. This stay in Bimini may end up being one of the highlights of our trip however.