It is hard to plan your life when all your energy is focused on finding a place to hide. We arrived in the Bahamas on January 6 and spent much of the next 8 weeks searching for and scurrying to anchorages that provide protection from wind and waves.
Hiding from the wicked wind of the west in OZ
Most of this time we were in the south central Bahamas in the Exuma chain of islands. The chain starts south of New Providence Island (Nassau) and curves southeast for about 129 miles. There are not many anchorages in the Exumas that provide a safe and comfortable harbor in wind from any westerly direction. There are virtually no anchorages on the east side of the islands where the steep drop off is close to the shoreline getting to depths over 1000 feet in the Exuma Sound. There is always an ocean swell breaking on the rocks offshore.
Typical cut entrance wave action with north east winds
The anchorages are on the western shoreline except in a few cays. The Exuma Bank extends about 35 miles off the western side of the islands and is shallow with depths ranging from just a few feet to 25 feet. Since the prevailing wind in the Caribbean is from the east, cruisers have found easy passages along the west coast of the Exumas. The weather patterns have been disrupted by climate change to the extent that the old normal is severely challenged. In January and February the huge weather systems that brought bitter cold and icy snow to the US and Canadian Midwest, the East coasts and the Maritimes brought cold fronts to the Bahamas and even further south. These fronts brought blustery west and north winds to the Bahamas every 48 hours, leaving cruisers scrambling for space in in one of the few anchorages providing westerly protection. Even mooring fields and some of the marinas were dangerously exposed from western quadrant winds. Climate change is real and impacting the entire planet.
Doom and gloom aside, we have had pleasant sails, excursions ashore and comradery with other cruisers. We especially enjoy watching animals ashore, in the water and in the air. The rock iguanas on Allan’s Cay and Leaf Cay are protected by Bahamian law and have learned to seek out visitors and beg for food. The curly tail lizards on Warderick Wells are so fearless of humans you must watch your step when hiking to avoid stepping on them. We saw few sea birds other than gulls, but saw and heard the Bahamian mockingbird and mourning doves.
Rock iguanas on Leaf Cay Bahamian mockingbird
A curly tail guarding the Boo Boo trail
Life in the sea is the most spectacular. Barracudas abound in anchorages and on the banks, often being the fish that takes your lure. Reported to be good eating if small and caught away from the reefs, we release them when caught because of the risk of Ciguatera poisoning.
Brian fishing for lunch but only catching a Barracuda
Nurse sharks and rays frequent the waters near fish cleaning docks. Small (3-foot long) sharks visited us daily at Emerald Rock in the Exuma Land and Sea Park. One of the remoras that attach themselves to sharks detached from a shark and attached to our boat near the galley drain (a source of food particles). The most beautiful experience was snorkeling in the Ranger’s coral garden at Warderick Wells. It included many colourful corals and fish as well as a large spiny lobster and a couple of small sharks doing a swim-by. The 10-foot long hammerhead shark at Lee Stocking Cay was impressive. We were glad we were not in the water for its visit.
Whitefin Sharksucker ... Remoras attached to our hull and a spiny lobster
Various coral and a first time snorkeler
Shroud Cay provided great dinghy exploring. It is a collection of cays and rocks on a shallow bank which has extensive marl and mangrove salina. Mangroves are slowly claiming more and more of the bank and filling in the creeks. We were glad to have our GPS with us to ensure we did not get lost in the maze of dead-end creeks.
Shroud Cay creeks filling in with abundant mangrove growth
We stopped in George Town long enough to get replenishments for the larder, fresh water and SIM cards so we could communicate with family and the Internet. We had a perfect opportunity to escape George Town with a brisk northwest wind to get to Thompson Bay on the west side of Long Island.
Weathered homes and the local farmers’ market area in Thompson Bay, Long Island.
The small gathering of buildings at Salt Pond (hardly a village) showed signs of demise. Several stores and a marina/resort had closed. The only signs of prosperity were holiday homes and modest resorts, mainly owned by North Americans. There are fewer high rise, 5-star resorts and golf courses that are ruining parts of the Abacos, and the resorts have more of a Bahamian look and feel. We think the Bahamian government has done a huge disservice to its people by selling whole islands to foreigners, even in the land and sea parks. Little San Salvadore has been sold to the Holland America Cruise Ship company and cruisers are no longer welcome to anchor around this island.
We also had the opportunity to try out the Bahamian health care system this winter when Brian became doubled-over in pain with kidney stones. Fortunately this happened at Staniel Cay where there is a clinic staffed by a nurse. Fellow cruisers helped get Brian off Pilgrim and to the clinic and then back to Pilgrim. Our dinghy is a small hard shell boat, with an undersized outboard and very wet in choppy waters, so the assistance from cruisers with larger dinghies was most appreciated. The nurse in the clinic was competent, able to consult with a doctor via phone and order an ultrasound exam at a walk-in clinic in Nassau. The ultrasound appointment meant we got to take a 30-minute flight to Nassau, 75 miles north, and fly over many of the places we have anchored. We were seated just behind the pilot in a small twin-engine plane.
Flight into Nassau via Flamingo Airlines
Staniel Cay airport and cockpit interior
The ultrasound indicated that Brian had passed one or more kidney stones and a very small particle remained. The walk-in clinic was modern, well-equipped and private. The clinic at Staniel Cay has worn out home cobbled furniture and equipment and is partially government funded. Brian’s visit to the Staniel Cay clinic cost us $40. And that included an injection and tablets for pain. We asked if any of the entry fee we pay the Bahamian government gets diverted to the public health care system. The answer, probably not. However, there were two other medical emergencies from cruisers that used the St. Luke’s Clinic on Staniel Cay that we know about. What a shame that the local clinics are not better funded. They do good work on their shoestring budget.
Our daughter, her husband and 19-month old son visited us at Black Point for a week. Unfortunately it was a week of west winds and the Black Point anchorage became an unsafe rage .For half of their visit we were 6 miles further north in an anchorage nicknamed Oz because it is where you go to wait out the wicked wind from the west. When the weather allowed us to be with them, we went for a sail on the Exuma Bank and a swim in Little Bay. We celebrated our son-in-law’s birthday and also our wedding anniversary at Lorraine’s Café in Black Point. She made us a blue velvet cake.
Anniversary and birthday dinner followed by a long walk in Black Point
Blow hole close to Black Point
The weather windows were too short in February to begin making our way east and south to get to our planned destination for hurricane season, Granada. During the first 2 weeks of March we were bombarded with strong easterlies which stymied progress to the east. We have decided it is too late to get to the Windward Islands by May this year. Instead we will cruise in the Bahamas until late April and then head back to Florida to store Pilgrim for hurricane season. There are plenty of new harbours for us to discover in the Bahamas. The change of plans will just extend the number of years it will take us to cruise the entire Caribbean. So be it.