We have taken a couple months off from posting to rest, recuperate, and get ready for more videos, blog posting, and of course travel and sailing. Be sure to check back next Wednesday for our first blog of the season. If you follow us on YouTube our first video will be out the Saturday after our blog post on 07 March 2020. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss it.
The first morning in Puerto Rico we woke up and started making breakfast. We like to treat ourselves to a hot breakfast when we get to a new country. While Puerto Rico is part of the USA, we did just leave from the Bahamas so it’s “new” again. Our freezer and refrigerator took a nose dive and completely stopped working during the five day sail over . So, what do you do with a freezer full of delicious food….start cooking! Lisa and I made Goetta, eggs, and pancakes for breakfast to get us fueled for the grueling work ahead..
After arrival we set out to get some of our projects completed. The original “plan” was to get settled in Puerto Rico and spend a week or so at Marina Pescaderia , and fix a few things on the boat. We ordered a new SeaFrost refrigerator and freezer and installed them. It was actually a fairly straightforward installation. I had parts on board to redo the fuel lines. The lines were all original and I wanted to replace them instead of waiting for them to burst underway. While we were awaiting the parts to arrive I had applied for a job in Alaska. I applied to Allen Marine Tours in Juneau, as a tour boat captain. I found out while we were waiting for parts that I had been accepted for the season to captain one of their 65’ 48 passenger aluminum jet boats for the summer. This would be a great way to top up the sailing kitty. If there is one truism for sailing, it’s that it always costs more money. So our plans changed once again. We started strategizing on how we would prepare Unwritten Timeline in Puerto Rico for the hurricane season. Instead of Lisa travelling to Juneau with me for work and leaving the boat unattended she decided to stay in the Caribbean aboard the sailboat. Living on your sailboat while at a beautiful Caribbean island is a tough job, but someone has to do it.
I completed the new fridge and freezer installation, redoing the fuel system and started working on the scheduled maintenance that would be due while I was away for 5 months. I wanted to make sure the boat would be in good shape before I left. I purchased a one way ticket from San Juan to Juneau and I was on my way for my first job after leaving the military.
The best laid plans of mice and men always end the same way. Our week long stay in Puerto Real would turn into a 6 month layover.
We cleared out of the Bahamas at the customs office on Cat Island. This was a quick and easy process. There was a low pressure system moving to the East and we wanted to catch some of that wind. We woke up a little early to prepare the boat for our longest passage away from land aboard Unwritten Timeline. We would be heading past Turks and Caicos. Sailing past Dominican Republic and planning to arrive at Puerto Real on the Southwest tip of Puerto Rico. We planned on being at sea for 4 to 6 days depending on what type of winds would cross our bow. It is normal for the trade winds to blow from East to West in this area of the world. This would make an East passage a little tougher if we wanted to actually sail. This is why we were waiting for a low pressure system to help us out. With the system North of us we planned for some Northerly winds shifting back to the normal trades as we made our way East. Unwritten Timeline isn’t fast enough to stay with the system as it rolls across the Atlantic but we were using what we could get from it before the winds turned against us. This path along the islands is sometimes referred to as the “thorny path”. It makes for a less than pleasant passage to the Caribbean since you have to beat into the trade winds.
We set off in nearly no wind from Cat Island awaiting the system to catch up to us and give us a little wind on our beam. After about 18 hours of motoring in near glass calm ocean the winds started to gradually pick up and we had the sails out. Our low pressure system was finally catching up to us. We were clipping along the seas at a steady 7-9 kts under sail. The waves were building and every so often we would get one break over the side into the cockpit. Our deck sits about 6 feet off the waterline. Our hardtop bimini is about another 5 feet and waves were breaking over the top of our boat. It was getting fun and we were glad to have a stout Antares catamaran easily taking us on our journey. The high waves were only about every third or fourth wave and most did not come above deck level. Gradually the winds started to abate. The seas calmed back down to a nice 4-5 foot height and soon we were trying to tack and claw our way East. We didn’t have enough diesel in the tanks to make a 5 day trip completely under motor so we were left with tacking as best we could until we were sure we could finish the trip under power if the winds didn’t change in our favor.
Sometime during the third day we were passing Dominican Republic. We didn’t have time to make landfall there but the North side of the island looked stunning. Something you might see in a Jurassic Park movie. Hopefully we can check out the area on our next trip through the Caribbean. As we continued tacking slowly making our way East we started crossing the Mona Passage. This is named for the little Mona Island. As the wind whips around the Western side of Puerto Rico it crosses the currents created between Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico oftentimes making for another area of wild rides. One good thing about the Mona Passage was it gave us another opportunity to sail a little longer. Since we were heading to Puerto Real we could head a little South. This let us take advantage of the East trade winds just a little bit longer before we were forced to turn on our diesel engines.
As morning broke on the fifth day we could see the entrance to Puerto Real. We followed the channel markers into the bay and approached the fuel dock of Marina Pescaderia with low fuel, a tired crew, and a salty ship. After filling up our fuel tanks and tieing up we quickly hooked up the power cables and cranked up the air conditioning. It was finally time to relax in some cool air and take a break.
Since Georgetown was just a little too crowded for our taste we set off for Cat Island. This is on the Eastern side of the Bahamas so it would be a good place to depart for Puerto Rico when we were ready. It’s a little less traveled which is perfect for us. Of course the big draw was the Mount Alvernia Hermitage. This Hermitage is a medieval monastery that was hand carved out of rock by Monsignor John Hawes. He created the Hermitage in 1939 so he could get away from the world and be alone with his faith. He also created hand-carved stone reliefs of the Stations of the Cross. The staircase leading up to the hermitage is beautifully done and worth every step. When you do reach the top you are treated to a breathtaking 360 degree view of Cat Island. The top of the hill is 206’ and is the highest point in all of the Bahamas. It is an easy walk from the anchorage in front of the Settlement of Freetown. On our way back from the hilltop we stopped by Olive’s Bakery for freshly baked coconut bread.
We were keeping an eye out for a weather window to make our way to Puerto Rico. The trade winds generally blow from the East so it makes sailing East a little challenging. There was a low pressure system coming in North of us in a few days and we were hoping to catch some of that wind to sail to Puerto Rico. Since we had a few days to ourselves we also had a bite to eat at Hidden Treasure. This is a fantastic little restaurant right on the beach. You can park your tender right in front of the dinner tables and order a freshly made meal. It was a delicious dinner with a brilliant sunset.
In preparation for departing the Bahamas we took Unwritten Timeline a short hop North to Fernandez Bay to wait for the final departure weather window. The weather we wanted delayed us a couple days. With the extra time, we took the opportunity to take our OC tender and explore the mangroves with Sophia. Fernandez Bay has great holding and is very well protected. There is a resort at the bay, but since we were early in the season we had the entire place to ourselves with the exception of one other sailboat.
When the time came we took the tender to the customs office, made one last stop at Alvernia Food Store and got ready to depart on our next journey. This was our second time clearing a country with Unwritten Timeline, if you count the US, and it went fairly smoothly. It probably helped that we were just going to another US territory.
Next time we weigh anchor for a 5 day jaunt to Puerto Rico.
The jump to Georgetown would be a little longer at 40 nautical miles so we elected to sail down the East side of the Exumas in the deep Atlantic. This way we should be able to get some good wind in the sails and the entrance to Georgetown is on the Atlantic side anyway. We had a good weather window with a small swell and good winds so we were off out of Rudder Cut and turning South under full sails. It’s always so nice to be travelling silently through the water instead of hearing the low rumble of the engines.
We wanted to head to Georgetown to get some supplies for the engines, provision a little and enjoy big city living before we set off for Cat Island. Cat Island would be our last stop in the Bahamas and there isn’t much in the way of large provisioning spots over there. When we pulled up to the anchorage outside of Georgetown we quickly realized something big was going on. There were boats, boats, and more boats as far as the eye could see. We didn’t know it at the time but the 38th George Town Cruising regatta was happening over the next week and everyone was already getting staged for the festivities. When you get to Georgetown you can take your tender under a small bridge and enter Victoria Harbor. This is the hub for the cruising community in Georgetown. There is a fantastic public tender dock with free clean water. A separate public dock for the Shell station if you need to top off a couple jugs of fuel. There are a couple grocery stores right around the water and restaurants for a good bite to eat. We knew it would be a bit busier in Georgetown, but we didn’t expect quite so much commotion. It was more crowded than Marsh Harbor. The regatta really draws a crowd. We decided to grab our provisions, stop by Brown’s Marine for a few items, and plan our escape route out of the area. Unwritten Timeline was set and ready to go early morning on our third day anchored in Stocking Harbor.
Next we get back off the beaten path for Cat Island and the highest point in all of the Bahamas.
When we finally had our thrills with the pigs and fish around Big Majors we woke up early and got on our way. It would be a little longer trip of 30 miles along the Exuma Bank down to a place called Rudder Cut Cay. Rudder Cut Cay is a private island owned by David Copperfield. What do you do when you have enough disposable income to buy an island? Well, you pay Jason DeCaires Taylor to make a stainless steel sculpture of a mermaid by a piano and sink it in 15 feet of water. About halfway down Rudder Cut Cay on the West side of the cay you can find the sculpture hidden just under the water. When the current is coming in or out the sandy bottom gets a little stirred up and makes it harder to find, but that’s part of the fun. Lisa and I took the tender over and anchored near the sculpture and snorkeled down to see our first mermaid under water. We had a good time exploring the area around the mermaid and made our way back to Unwritten Timeline for the night. When we got home Sophia was ready for a little beach walk. It is a private island, but we risked jail time to take her to the beach. Yep, we’re rebels aboard the good ship Unwritten Timeline. I’m sure she appreciated it. Sophia always does well on the boat but she sure does enjoy her shore excursions.
On our way back from the mermaid we noticed a small cave that was just open at high tide so we thought we’d check it out the next day. During low tide you can beach your tender right up on a soft white sand beach in a small cave. It’s like your own private secluded beach. Rudder Cut Cay was a great little get away in the Exumas. It’s a little off the beaten path and there isn’t much on the island except a small airfield, a few homes and a resort. If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of places like Nassau or Georgetown this is the place to be.
Next stop is the big city of Georgetown.
We weighed anchor and were off for our next destination a little further South. We decided to stay West of the islands on the Exuma Bank to make for a little calmer ride instead of the waves of the open Atlantic Ocean. It was only a short 10 miles down the Exumas to Big Majors and the famous Pig Beach. Big Majors is an uninhabited Cay that has a population of pigs living on the island. There are several versions of the story on how the pigs came to be there. Some say they survived a shipwreck. One version is that pirates dropped off the pigs so they could come back after their raids to cook and feast on them. Or maybe a savvy business man wanted a local attraction to bring tourists to the area. Who really knows the exact origins? But now they are fed by locals, but mostly by the throngs of tourists that come to the island just to see the local celebrities. Most bring their boats to the island but sometimes you have to up your game and bring in your own float plane right onto the beach.
The area around Big Majors doesn’t only have the cool Pig Beach, but they have Thunderball Grotto to see as well. Grottos are often small caves near water that are usually flooded or liable to flood at high tide. Thunderball Grotto is a short trip around the corner to Staniel Cay. This grotto was made famous by the James Bond movie “Thunderball” that was shot there in 1965. It was used again by the Bond crew in 1983. Now it is a very popular tourist destination in the Exumas. Boats bring guests to the grotto for snorkeling all day long. One of the great things about cruising around the world in your sailboat is that you can go to these magical places anytime. We anchored in our tender right outside the entrance and waited for a break in the tourist boats. Lisa and I had the whole grotto to ourselves for about 45 minutes. It was a beautiful array of colorful coral, fish, and sunlight streaming through holes in the ceiling to the clear water below. It was some of the best snorkeling we would have in the Bahamas and we had it all to ourselves for awhile.
Staniel Cay is a larger town, by Bahama standards anyway. We took the opportunity to check out some of the local grocery stores while we were in the area. The island gets a supply boat a couple times a week and we showed up on arrival day. The good part was all the food was fresh off the boat. The bad thing was everyone on the island knew the ship was coming in so the stores were packed. The stores themselves are fairly famous for sailors around this area. They are colloquially referred to as the “Pink” and “Blue” stores. They are painted in pink and blue respectively. If you’re in Staniel Cay you have to stop by to grab something on your stop there. It’s a beautiful little town with lots to see as you walk around between all of the shops.
After our sightseeing and grabbing some supplies from Staniel Cay we were ready to keep going South to go see a famous piano player.
The morning we left Highborne Cay the nurse sharks were still hanging out in the shade under our boat. Unfortunately for them it was time for us to move along. We weighed anchor and motored a short 5 miles to Saddle Cay or Little Norman’s Cay. Even though Saddle Cay is only 5 miles away it feels like a completely different place. We were the only sailboat in the cut, which made it feel like we had the whole world to ourselves. The water was amazingly clear. It had just enough deep water to swing at anchor without worrying about touching the bottom. But, close enough to swim to the islands…when the current wasn’t ripping. Another good thing about this anchorage is the current. It doesn’t facilitate swimming in the middle of the channel but it swings the boat quickly during the tide change. We pretty much stayed above our anchor the entire time. When the tide would switch Unwritten Timeline would do a 180 degree flip with the current. The close in islands blocked all the wind. It was the smoothest anchorage we would have in all the Bahamas. We almost never felt a wave, even during the turn of the tide. As beautiful as the landscape was the mosquitoes were just as terrible. Do not venture out of the boat at dusk. You may be found the next morning a desiccated carcass along the beach after the mosquitoes drain you of all the blood in your body. I made the mistake the first night of taking Sophia to shore right at sunset. When I returned my entire back was covered in welts from the mosquitoes getting their nightly feast. We made sure to use all the screens we could and didn’t go out at night any more while we were there. They were ferocious.
While the days at Saddle Cay were perfect the nightly bugs helped us make the decision to leave after a few days. We wanted to check out the Nurse sharks at Compass Cay, so early in the morning we set out on the Atlantic for about a 40 mile trip further down the islands. We arrived at Compass Cay just before sunset and got the anchor down under a beautiful moonlit sky. The next day we took Sophia to shore for a walk and headed to Compass Cay marina to see the nurse sharks. We walked around the marina but didn’t stay too long. It is really geared for tourists with expensive food and drinks and a landing fee for tenders. Since it was early in the season we didn’t get charged the landing fee and the marina wasn’t packed with tourists so it was pretty nice. But there is really only the marina and the nurse sharks around. Since we already had our own sharks and remoras at Highborne Cay we decided to keep on moving South after just a day.
Another short jaunt would see us at Big Majors for the pig beach and Thunderball Grotto.
We departed for another short hop over to the Exuma Islands. Our first stop would be the West side of Highborne Cay. The Exumas are a chain of 365 Islands and Cays surrounded by crystal clear water and an abundance of unique sights to see. We settled on Highborne Cay as our first stop in the Exumas because it offered up a nice anchorage with a coral reef extending to the West. We anchored close enough to snorkel right off the back of Unwritten Timeline and check out the sights. Depending on the tide there were a lot of fish or no fish hanging out along the reef. What we didn’t know before we got there was that wasn’t even the best of the marine life around. We had a few nurse sharks that hung out under the shade of our boat during the day. The remoras that accompanied them were always swimming back and forth looking for an easy meal. It was our first encounter with nurse sharks but wouldn’t be our last in the Bahamas.
The Exumas have so many islands and cays around that are so close we also ventured out on our OCT tender about a mile and half over the deep channel to South Allan’s Cay. We love having a tender that can move us far and fast around the anchorage so we can easily explore all the cool places around. They have dinosaurs on the South Allan’s Cay! OK, maybe not dinosaurs but there are plenty of iguanas that call the island home. We took some carrots with us to appease them so they don’t destroy any major cities. We anchored just off the beach and waded up to the watchful and waiting lizards. They were a little apprehensive at first but you can tell they’re use to getting visitors. As soon as Lisa broke out the small pieces of carrot a crowd of scurrying feet, claws, and tails was upon us. We hung out and fed the iguanas for awhile. When we ran out of food they quickly lost interest and ran under the rocks and vegetation to get away from the bright sunlight. We waded back into the tender and headed back towards Highborne Cay.
After getting back aboard we used a clove hitch to tie the tender to stern of Unwritten Timeline thinking we would be getting back in soon and exploring some more. A clove hitch is a good hitch for temporary use. One major drawback is that it can make itself loose, especially when it is going through cycles of tension and no tension. You know, the motion waves make. Well, 2 hours later we were comfortably relaxing on the couch and it was quiet. A little too quiet. I realized I didn’t hear the rhythmic slapping of the tender off the stern of our boat. I jumped up saw that it was in fact no longer tied to the stern and scanned the horizon. A tiny little boat that looks remarkably like ours was floating about a quarter mile away. I alerted Lisa, I jumped into the water to try and swim to it since we had no more tenders aboard. As I was swimming towards our escaped tender Lisa got on the VHF and tried to raise anyone in the anchorage. Luckily a fellow cruiser was listening. Lisa explained that I was swimming to our tender as it tried to make its way slowly out to sea. He jumped in his tender and motored out to pick me up about a quarter of the way there. I’m glad he showed up. I’m not sure I would have made it to the tender. Swimming is hard. We made our way to our tender and I jumped in and sped back to Unwritten Timeline exhausted, embarrassed, and humbled. I took over a 5 gallon can of gasoline and a drink to say thanks for saving the day. It’s nice being out cruising with great people like them.
Since that was more than enough excitement and certainly enough exercise I tied up the tender and also used the stainless steel wire and lock just to make sure I slept sound that night.
Moral of the story, take time to tie a good knot even if you think you’re just leaving it for a few minutes.
After departing the calm, protected anchorage in Hatchet Bay we made a left turn once outside of the narrow channel and headed to the Southern end of Eleuthrea. Rock Sound isn’t as protected as Hatchet bay, but the holding is still great and it is protected on three sides and about half of the fourth side. It is a good spot in almost any wind. Since we were still early on in the cruising season for the Bahamas there were only about 6 other sailboats around us so we were able to anchor fairly close to the tender dock. The seafloor was smooth white sand around most of the anchorage. In the mornings you could see a beautiful sunrise just beyond the low lying island and the sunsets were open to a vast expanse of ocean.
There were a couple places we wanted to check out while we were in Rock Sound. The first was the Ocean Hole. This is a large sinkhole that is one of the most famous landmarks in Eleuthera. Even Jacque Cousteau had once explored the Ocean Hole. Now it is a source of fun for residents and visitors alike. There are several different types of fish, and they are very comfortable with the tourists. As soon as they see someone come to the edge of the water entire schools of fish will come to the surface near you anxiously awaiting their daily feeding. It’s fun to see so many fish right up at the edge. Be sure to bring some bread or other fish food to hold them over. If you want to jump in and cool off the Blue Hole is also a great swimming location. There is a ladder and small platform so you can easily get out when you’re done hanging out with the fish.
Of course the Ocean Hole isn’t the only cool thing to do around Rock Sound. We checked out the Cathedral Cave. This is located right across Queen’s Highway from a picturesque Methodist Church. There is actually another ocean hole right next to the cave, so it’s a two for one trip. Cathedral Cave is a small karst formation cave. The cave itself is not very expansive, but the views are very cool. It is open in several spots in the ceiling allowing light to enter most parts of the cave. There are also roots from the trees up top streaming down into the cave giving it the appearance of buttresses on an old cathedral. It is a pretty cool stop that is just a short walk from the tender dock.
Since Rock Sound is a little larger town and were heading to the Exumas soon we also wanted to grab some groceries. We checked out Hall’s Food Store and Market Place Store. Hall’s is a standard local grocery store in the Bahamas and it’s near the tender dock. Market Place Store is a little more “Western” and they have Air Conditioning. We packed up our cart and made our way back to Unwritten Timeline.
Next stop is the Exumas.
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