January 20, 2019

Southern Abacos and Crossing to Eleuthera

After exploring the central Abaco cays we made our way south to Marsh Harbor, the largest city in the Abacos - and the third largest in all the Bahamas. What it lacks in charm it makes up in convenience, with the closest thing we've seen to an American grocery store here in the Bahamas. We stayed in the main anchorage only about 24 hours, which was all we needed to run ashore to purchase overlooked snorkel gear and fins (our old sailing grounds - the Chesapeake Bay - were too murky, so we never had any on board), as well as an anchor for the dinghy when we go ashore and have no where to tie off. We would have left Marsh Harbor sooner, but we received good news that morning that our missing dinghy oar was on it's way to us aboard S/V Zingaro, so we waited for their arrival.

After finding our oar, the second most exciting thing that happened in Marsh Harbor was that we were waked for the first time by a sea plane taking off from the anchorage and using the channel as it's runway! Sadly, we weren't fast enough to catch it on camera.

Man-o-War Cay

After leaving Marsh Harbor, we made our way to Man-o-War Cay, which was founded by loyalists in the 1780s who fled the Carolinas during the American Revolution. We anchored just outside the peaceful little town, which is well known for its boatbuilding; some 70 percent of the residents can trace their ancestry to the first settlers, the Alburys, famous for Albury Brothers fiberglass boats, which we've seen across the islands.

The townspeople are also very religious; no alcohol is served at restaurants and the entire town is closed on Sundays. We happened to visit on a Sunday, so we had the whole place to ourselves (minus a few stray cats) to sightsee and snorkel the beaches.

Thankfully, Gampy's Shell Shop had a collection basket for money so we could purchase a conch shell horn. It's a cruisers tradition to blow the conch at sunset, and we are determined to learn how (it's surprisingly harder than you might think!). Sara has the hang of it, but Nick needs a bit more practice.

Hope Town

After two days in Man-o-war, on January 8, we headed to Hope Town on Elbow Cay, which is among our favorite places that we've visited. Hope Town's famous landmark is its candy-striped lighthouse, which is one of the last operational kerosene-fueled lighthouses in the world. Another cruiser told us the kerosene burns out overnight, so the keeper has to climb to the top in the middle of the night to refill and relight the lamp.

The town's well protected harbor is full of moorings, which are first-come, first served and operated by a variety of Bahamian locals and businesses. After picking up our mooring, we called the number of it to learn it was the only one owned by Harbor View Grocery, where we headed each day to pay our $20 mooring fee. While in Hope Town we rented bicycles and enjoyed biking from one side of the picturesque island to the other (no cars allowed here - only golf carts), stopping along the way at Tahiti Beach, well known for it's white sandbar, which appears at low tide.

We also stopped at popular On Da Beach restaurant for lunch and pina coladas; with no ice on board (our mini freezer is for frozen meats only, which are very expensive in the islands), a frozen drink was a refreshing treat! We thoroughly enjoyed the residents' sense of humor and got a laugh at the many street signs we came across while exploring town, including the signs noting how far away "home" was for many.

Hope Town is also home to cruisers Will and Muffin, who host the Abacos Cruisers name net on the VHF radio each morning at 8:15. We thoroughly enjoyed listening to it - and the tips about weather, events, and sea conditions - during our time in the Abacos, especially since it helped us locate our missing oar!

Here's a short clip of the cruisers net from our last day in the Abacos:

Crossing to the Eleuthera Islands

After three really great weeks sailing and exploring the Abaco islands, we'd come to the end of the island chain. On January 11, we sailed from Hope Town to Lynyard Cay, where we set ourselves up to jump offshore down to the Eleuthera chain of Bahamas islands. The following morning, we set out at 7 a.m. for the 57-nm sail south through some pretty deep waters (more than 12,000-feet in some areas).

The conditions were forecast to be about 15 knots of wind from the east and waves about 4 feet. We headed out to sea in those conditions, but after a few hours the wind grew to 17-22 knots and the waves grew to 6 feet (thankfully from aft of our beam and with a long swell period so we surfed along on the waves and didn't bash or slosh from side-to-side too much). We also had company along the way from M/v Cool Change and S/v Senergy, and we hailed one another on the radio and checked in during the 8-hour crossing.

When sailing offshore or in rough conditions, we wear auto-inflating life jackets (a CO2 cartridge activates once submerged in water), which are less cumbersome and more buoyant than traditional life jackets 
In rough seas, we also use safety tethers to attach ourselves to the boat and ensure we stay onboard
After a long and exhausting sail south, and a boat covered in salt from the waves and spray, we arrived to Royal Island, Eleuthera, Bahamas, just as the sun was setting.

Salt spray, which never dries, covers Borealis’ windshield the morning after our passage
Salt from sea spray covers everything on the boat, so we welcome the occasional rain shower 
After a late rise the following morning, we set out in the dingy to explore Royal Island and its shores, which has the ruins of a private estate built in the 1950s but no other development or inhabitants.

Later that day, we were visited on dinghy by Bill and Judy, on S/v Whisper, who are fellow Wisconsinites, and saw Milwaukee, Wisc., as our boat's hailing port. When you buy a boat you must register it with the state, but you can also have it documented with the federal government and U.S. Coast Guard. Boats traveling to other states or long-distance cruisers traveling to foreign countries often document their boats to help facilitate customs clearance. You can choose any city you want as your hailing port - including a landlocked city with no water! We chose to document Borealis in Milwaukee, Wisc., since it was the city where we first met and Borealis is Latin for "of the north."

After two nights in Royal Island recuperating from our offshore sail, on January 14 we headed down to Spanish Wells, another popular cruising destination and Cape Cod-like fishing village. It may have been the time of day (school had just let out) or the path we chose through the town, but we weren't at all charmed by busy Spanish Wells (we captured only one picture: a small shark hunting for prey right off the docks).

We walked the trafficked main street a mile to the grocery store and then made our way right back to the boat. After leaving the grocery armed with our shopping bags full of produce, a golf cart with three generations of women stopped and asked if we needed a ride, which we gratefully accepted. After that, we dinghied back to the boat with our provisions and hightailed it back to the Royal Island anchorage for the night!

The following morning, we set sail for central Eleuthera. To get there, you have to navigate  through a narrow slot of water called Current Cut Transiting the cut requires you to contend with the full force of the wind and tidal current as the land narrows at the cut and water pours through it at 4-6 knots (and up to 10 knots during a king tide). It's recommend that underpowered boats, like a sailboat that only goes about 7-8 knots at top speed, only transit through in light winds and around slack tide. Even in those conditions, the narrow cut caused mixed, choppy seas. 

Along the way, Nick got the courage to fly the drone while under sail - a first since launching and landing the drone on a moving target isn't easy; Nick is also a bit gun shy after gashing a few fingers earlier this month trying to catch the drone after it nearly went overboard. Thankfully all went well and we got some great shots of Borealis with the sails up!

We plan to spend the next week or two exploring Eleuthera and look forward to what adventures lay ahead.

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