The Abacos has a pretty effective dividing line at Whale Cay. If your boat has a draft of four feet or more and you want to move between the northern and southern Abacos, you must use the Whale Cay Channel. This channel takes you from the placid Sea of Abaco, out around Whale Cay and into the Atlantic Ocean. On a good day, you spend the next 2.5 miles going south in the ocean and then duck back into the Sea of Abaco to enjoy the sheltered southern Abacos. But the Whale Cay Cut is fairly shallow (only about 12 feet) and, on a bad day, when the wind has been blowing out of the North for any length of time, the ocean waves get larger and larger and start breaking across the cut, making for a potentially hazardous passage. Note: To see how awful it can get in the Whale Cay Cut, google Whale Cay Cut in a rage (images). Sometimes the passage conditions in the Whale Cay Cut are announced during a Cruiser’s broadcast on VHF channel 68, sometimes you can simply put out a general call on VHF channel 16 to ask if anyone has transited the cut that day or sometimes I’ve even asked weather guy, Chris Parker, for his opinion and he’ll review the past days’ forecasts and give an educated guess. But local knowledge is always the best.
A month ago, after we cleared Customs in Green Turtle Cay, our next order of business was to sail into Marsh Harbor, south of Whale Cay Cut, to purchase a data plan from Bahamas Batelco, the countrywide Internet provider. Interestingly enough, Marsh Harbor is one of the few places in the Abacos we could actually purchase a data plan; sailing to Marsh Harbor to get that card is almost like driving from Ottawa to Toronto to get one! That next day, the Whale Cay Cut conditions were reported as ‘benign’ so south we went, got our data plan and, in the ebb and flow of cruising, we’ve now spent the month of February in the southern Abacos.
We admit it – there’s been no agenda aboard Strathspey. We’ve been swimming, snorkeling and just basically exploring the southern cays and islands of the Abacos at our leisure, sailing no more than 20 miles each day. We’ve meandered north and south with no fixed itinerary. We’ve made stops at Treasure Cay, Matt Lowes Cay, Man-O-War, Hope Town, Tavern Cay, Lynyard, Tilloo and Little Harbor; stops that were dictated primarily by things like laundry, wanting to buy some fresh fish, or simply a recommendation for snorkeling from another cruiser. One day we even rented a car to explore inland all the way south to Cherokee, an isolated Bahamian fishing village with the longest dock we’ve ever seen; it was 770 feet long, stretching out over shallow flats to a section of water deep enough for a freight boat to nudge up into.
The first time we sailed south via the St Lawrence, we blasted through the Abacos on our way down to the more southerly Exumas. Last year, we left the USA from Miami and crossed the Gulf Stream and the Great Bahama Bank to arrive at Nassau, missing this area completely.
This year, we had extensive instrument and water maker installations, a late launch, a wonky anchor chain and never-ending strong SE winds which hung us up at Lake Worth rather than our planned departure location of Miami. Sailing is all about planning in pencil and bending with the wind and weather so this season, we crossed the Gulf Stream via the Northern route and ended up in the Abacos, in the Northern part of the Bahamas.
It’s serendipity though, because we’re enjoying this new area and especially enjoying a more relaxed pace than previous seasons. But now, each time we discuss itineraries, it’s a different game plan. We waffle back and forth re whether to continue further south to the Exumas, putting in long days, some overnights and much motor-sailing. But here we are at beginning of March, still in the Abacos, and it seems perhaps that the decision has been made for us. If we are to look for a weather window back to the USA in early April so as to be back in Ottawa in good time, we likely don’t have time to go any further south and still enjoy the slo-mo, no-agenda type of sailing that we’ve embraced this season. So, we watch for a nice day to head back North through the Whale Cay Cut so as to explore the Northern Abacos at our leisure before it’s time to head home.
It’s been a nasty winter up north in Ottawa with snow-storm after snow-storm, bone-chilling temperatures and wind chill factors in the minus 30’s. Environment Canada says this is the third-coldest winter on record in the last 50 years. But, that weird winter weather has reached south and affected all of the southern USA, Bahamas and the Caribbean as well. Here in the Northern Bahamas, at least once a week we are hiding from a strong cold front with high winds and squalls with heavy rain. Of course, we don’t expect any sympathy as we don’t get the cold temperatures and we welcome the occasional rain that washes all the greasy, sticky salt off our decks.
For the last bit of squally weather at the end of February we duck into Hopetown Harbor once more. As a bad weather harbor, it’s one of three excellent hidey-holes south of Whale Cay (the other two are Treasure Cay and Man-O-War Harbor). Here in the harbour everyone’s favourite occupation is checking out what the ‘neighbours’ are doing.
It’s like a little community here in Hopetown. You have the trawlers and big motorboats with enough battery power to leave all their lights on. We see the occupants sitting in big armchairs in the light of lamps with actual lampshades. Without exception, they are all indoors though. Then, you have all the sailboats, mostly dark or with dimmed lights, and everyone sitting up in the cockpit with candles or solar lights; sailors and their battery power can easily take up an entire posting! Usually, the number one topic on most sailboats is ‘what is our battery bank at?’ …’What the heck is using up all this power?’… ‘Oh, wonderful, a sunny day for our solar panels to charge the battery’…and ‘who left the light on!’ Then, a whole world apart from the trawlers, motorboats and sailboats are the ‘Charters’. These are usually catamarans, usually big catamarans, usually containing people from the cold, cold North. Very often, they are experienced sailors who sail the Great Lakes all summer and look forward to a week or so in the sun in the middle of winter. But occasionally, they are not so experienced and make for a good story or two. Just last week, we were in two different anchorages with the same Moorings charter boat with a crew of four aboard. Both times, the crew left the engine running and went ashore for a few hours; that’s just as bad as leaving your car engine running for two hours while you duck into the mall to go shopping. Aw well….not our boat.
In the first week of March, we sail out and around Whale Cay Cut, that Abacos dividing line. It’s a good day to transit the cut though and now we are in the northern part of the Abacos with a whole different set of islands and cays to explore.
There is a front coming through tomorrow with 30 knot winds, gusting 40 with squalls to 50 knots. All last month I’ve been smart and I’ve hung onto my ‘go to a marina’ card; this is much the same as the ‘get out of jail’ card in Monopoly. We’ve been anchored or on a mooring ball since we left Florida but today I play my ‘go to a marina’ card and we tuck into a really nice marina here in Green Turtle Cay – Bluff House Marina and Resort. Sigh…. it has a really nice pool, upscale restaurant, strong Internet signal and good protection from these crazy winds predicted. Tonight is Steak night at the restaurant so Blair is a happy boy because he gets to eat steak for the first time since his last outing to Hy’s in Ottawa with our son Sandy and buddy Scott. Yes, that’s steak, not fish. Moooo……
Oh, and yes, people keep telling me that they think we are eating quite nicely aboard Strathspey. We agree and so this time I’ve posted photos of some of those nice meals.