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t/t The Voyage of Snow Goose
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- Snow Goose in the Bahamas - Part I - [ Part II ]

On this page I would like to share a little about our travels through the Bahamas, and some of our favorite places that we visited. But like most sailors, once we begin talking about sailing, it's hard to stop. As a result, what began as a short piece, seems to be turning into an ongoing epic.

I should begin by saying that we started our Bahamian cruise in January, a time when there are many sailboats traveling to and from. We decided to cross the Gulf Stream from Miami, more specifically Biscayne channel, as our destination was the southern Bahamas, it seemed like a good departure point.

Waiting for a good weather window in the winter months in southern Florida, can be a long process, as the fronts can move through frequently, with some extended periods when crossing the 2 1/2 knot current of the Gulf Stream with opposing winds, makes for treacherous swell conditions. And, don't think you'll get a nice south breeze to be able to sail the distance, or you'll end up waiting a long time, maybe 'till spring. South winds in the winter months in southern Florida, don't last long, and usually preceed cold fronts.So unfortunately, you'll have to bite the bullet and expect to motor the distance.

While anchored off Key Biscayne, we encountered many sailboats that were also waiting to make the crossing. A little time spent on the VHF radio, speaking with other sailors, led to forming a flotilla of 11 boats that would depart at 1 A.M., from Biscayne Channel (good light upon arrival at Gun Cay is essential). Some of our best friendships to this day began here, meeting Luc and Anne aboard "Sunshine Reggae", French Canadians from Montreal, who had traveled down the intercoastal from Lake Champlain, and Jocques and Estelle and one year old Robin, aboard "Wawaron", who were from France. Just a few of the many friends we made along the journey. We spent the night anchored off the park, at the south part of the island.

The forecast was for easterly winds of 15-20 knots with a 5-7 ft. swell to motor into, what looked to be our best chance for a while. At 1:00 AM, after a brief radio contact, we started the diesels and began to exit Biscayne Channel in single file along with the other boats. It was all very exciting! Most of the evening was spent in conversations with others in our flotilla on the VHF radio, which helped to make the journey an entertaining one. We encountered a large freighter miles out, and found it hard to determine the size, course, and speed of the ship, ourselves being without radar. It was not a problem at any time, but made us realize just what a little fish in this big sea we actually were!

We motored the 10-11 hours to cross the Gulf Stream, arriving at the Gun Cay light at approximately 11:30 A.M.. All had gone well. We hoisted our yellow Q flag, entered the cut, and proceeded to clear customs.

After clearing customs, we anchored off the eastern side of Gun Cay, and prepared to cross The Great Bahama Bank early the next morning. We woke up to a beautiful clear day, with south winds of about 10-15 knots, perfect!

"Wawaron and "Sunsgine Reggae" prepare to cross
the Great Bahama Bank

We had the most outrageous sail that day, sunny, favorable winds, making better than 5 knots over crystal clear water. The color of the turquoise water was like something I had never seen, with depths of about 11 ft over a white sandy bottom. After sailing for the day with our flotilla of boats, it came time to anchor for the evening. This was very intimidating as the closest point of land being about 40 miles, but traveling at night across the banks, or trying to attempt to find the cut through the reef at Russel Beacon, is not an alternative. We anchored amongst our flotilla, and bed down for the night.

We awoke to a wind shift in the morning, northwest at 15 knots, perfect for a sleigh ride the remaining 35 or so miles to Chub Cay. But as the day progressed, so did the wind. As the wind approached 25-30 knots, with much higher gusts, the seas started to build. We shortened sail and were left flying only our foresail, which we had reefed using the roller furling. Snow Goose, a heavy full keel boat, was surfing down these swells at over nine knots, by far our fastest speed ever! In no time at all it seemed we were turning east along the southern part of Chub Cay, on our way to anchor on the southeast side of the island. We had a wonderful spaghetti dinner on board Snow Goose that evening, inviting friends from several other boats to join us. It was like a celebration of so many years of working and dreaming about this, had finally come true.

The next day we all moved to the south part of the island, as the wind was rounding more towards the north or northeast. We anchored off a wonderful mile long beach, with whispering casuarina pines, and spent the day beach-combing and socializing with the other cruisers. A perfect day!

The next morning, Robin's birthday, we sailed the 30 or so miles to Rose Island, just east of Nassau. The water in the Northeast Providence Channel can get to incredible depths, miles deep at times. The color of the water is almost black, and the swells we encountered must have been 15-20 feet! Seeing the spreaders on the sailboat next to you disappear behind the waves was awesome, but very gentle. We had a wonderful sail, even spending a little time playing the guitar, in the cockpit for a while.We anchored off the south side of Rose Island with what seemed like good protection from the north through southeast. The rocky cliffs of the island were our first glimpse at the geography of the southern Bahamas, as the Exumas are so different than the Berries in appearance. Majestic rock formations, meeting the absolutely clear turquoise water. As darkness approached, we were greeted by the sounds of "Happy Birthday" (French version) being sung by our newly met friends, who had all dinghy'd over to sing for Robin. It was very special, and brought her to tears, a birthday I'm sure she will never forget!

During the night there had been a slight wind shift, and although we were protected from the wind, the swells were wrapping around and became most uncomfortable, and the hard rocky shore made it twice as bad.With the first light we were off to Nassau Harbor, relieved to be moving after a rolling night.

Nassau Harbor was not really on our itinerary, but we decided to see what it was like, and to stick with our cruising friends. We entered the harbor, after first clearing with Nassau Harbor Control, proceeded under the Potter's Cay bridge, and anchored over by the B.A.S.R.A. dock. We spent a couple of days in Nassau, seeing some of the various sights, but I must express a word of caution,
I have seen them stolen there, so be careful, and try not to leave your motor onboard it at night. This is about the only negative thing I can think of about the Bahamas. And this only happens in Nassau, not the Out Islands.

While anchored there amongst many other cruising sailboats we had the unfortunate experience of being hit by a freighter, trying to maneuver his vessel after almost running aground. He backed his ship into the bow of Snow Goose, hitting her in the bow pulpit. I was on deck, and told Robin to try to hail thim on channel 16 VHF, but to no avail. I could only watch as he approached and struck us, not much else to do to hold back a 120' ship! But as I was standing there, I watched as our bow rail brushed against the steel hull, and to my amazement, some tubing broke off the freighter and fell right into my hands!. He gained control of his vessel, and quickly we had decided to move our boat out of harms way. As it turned out, after a little bending of the bowpulpit by hand, we had escaped unscathed, more than I can say for the freighter, for she was missing at least one of her parts. Cheoy Lee's are tough boats!

Our trip then took us south to the Exuma's. Leaving Nassau Harbor for the approximate 40 mile sail across the Yellow Banks to Allan's Cay, home of the giant iguanas. You must leave Nassau so that you arrive at the Yellow Banks at about noon, for the good light is essential to navigate around the many large coral heads that are scattered about. They are so large and contrast well against the sandy bottom, that they can easily be avoided. Some cruisers make a point to stop here amongst these coral heads to do some spearfishing, as they are about 20 miles from land and are usually not fished out. After passing through the the dangerous area, left us with a beautiful sail the remaining distance to Allan's Cay.

Allan's Cay was a surprise to me. As we approached the island I was astounded at the number of mastheads that were visable, as the anchorage is situated amongst a few small islands, and could not see the boats themselves. I suppose I had been expecting to see the Exuma's with fewer sailboats, but to my amazement, probably 20 sailboats were anchored there, cruising sailboats from all over the world. It was a beautiful anchorage with good protection, and gave us a chance to do our first spearfishing trip, since our arrival in the Bahamas. We found a good reef just north and east of Allan's, where I had my first look at a octopus in the wild. Scared the hell out of me, as I was looking for lobsters and did not expect at all to come face to face with a large, ugly sea creature!

The giant iguanas are a trip! About 3 feet long, and like something out of "Jurasic Park". People come down from Nassau for day tours to see them, not to be missed if you have children, they'll love them! That evening, we had a wonderful beach party and cook out, with some of our cruising friends, sharing some of the fish we had gotten during the day. It was a beautiful ending to a memorable day.

The next morning we had decided to sail south to Highborne Cay, just a few miles as the crow flies, but due to the long sand banks that stretch out miles to the west, made it a lengthy sail. With the easterly winds, we anchored off the western side of the island in about 11 feet of water, over a pure white sandy bottom. I was amazed at how clear the water was. As I set the anchor, and after 75 feet of scope was paid out, I could still see the anchor clearly, as I watched it set itself. Amazing! Highborne has a lovely long sandy beach on its western side, and we did some diving around a group of rocks that were not far from our boats.

Our friends aboard "Sunshine Reggae", and "Wawaron" were great cruising companions, and sticking together as a trio of boats, made for a richer experience. We enjoyed our conversations, and shared good times together with them, so it felt logical to continue as we had been doing. The following morning while chatting about our next stop from our individual cockpits, it was clear that Luc had done the research the night before, and suggested we head to Hawksbill Cay. Without hesitation, Jocques replied "OK, we go now", and with the drop of a hat, our sails were hoisted, and we were on our merry way, leaving Luc standing in his cockpit, holding his coffee, amazed, not thinking we were leaving immediately!

Hawksbill was outstanding!!! The rocky hills and pure white sandy beaches were truly beautiful. It was Valentine's Day, and what a setting. We anchored off the western side, and went ashore to do some exploring, and climb the rocky hill to the cairne at the top. What a spectacular view from up there. The colors of the banks were something that cannot be believed until you see it for yourself, and do not look the same in photos. It's almost luminescent.

Although the wind remained from the east to east-southeast, there seemed to be a swell that somehow was wrapping around the island, that made it a bit uncomfortable. So the next day we did some soundings in the dinghy, and moved our boats to the next cove towards the north. This afforded better protection, and a change of scenery. It also had a very long white sand beach, that Robin used for her morning run. We later explored the ruins that are there on the island, left by deserters from the U.S. Civil War. It is an interesting site, and we later left our names in the logbook for visitors, that's in the mailbox on the beach.

We came to meet several new friends here, Pip and Andrew on board "Andiamo" from New Zealand, and Beth and Jay on "Pincoya" from Maine, and also a nice couple on "Brinny Maid" from Holland.

Our next move took us south along the banks side of the island chain. We had all decided to make Warderick Wells our next stop. We spent the entire day sailing, due to the fact that we were heading southeast, and of course, the wind was southeast, and being the purist, try to always sail as much as possible. It turned out to be a fun day, casually racing our fellow cruisers, arriving in the late afternoon. As we approached, there was an announcement from the Exuma Land and Sea Park headquarters over the VHF Ch 16, that the anchorage was filling up, and only a few more boats would be allowed in. Luckily, after checking in with them, we heard that there would still be room enough for our group.

Warderick Wells as seen from the Exuma Land
and Sea Park Headquarters

The anchorage at Warderick Wells is truly beautiful! The colors of the water come in every shade from white to indigo. Good holding over a white sand bottom, and some moorings are available. The current there is intense! We sat in 30 knot winds, and had our stern still facing the wind. Definately a "Bahamian Moor" situation, requiring the use of two anchors set at 180 degrees. There was a great sun-downer party at the park headquarters, where we got to meet many of the cruisers. There is a beautiful view from the park headquarters looking out over the anchorage, worth a picture for sure. Actually, there are many places on Warderick that would make for wonderful photos, like the east side of the island with it's rocky cliffs. So, if you go hiking on any of the many nature trails, be sure to bring your camera.

East side of Warderick Wells

The Exuma Land and Sea Park extends for many miles, and because it is a marine sanctuary, no fishing is allowed anywhere within it's boundaries. PLEASE, RESPECT THE PARK RULES! Also, I should say that it is important that all cruisers are VERY careful not to touch any coral, anywhere in the Bahamas, as it is very fragile, and just brushing against can kill it. Please be careful to protect these beautiful reefs. I have witnessed the damage in the Florida Keys that has been caused by the many tourists that visit the coral reefs there. We can all enjoy this beauty, and still preserve it for future generations if we exercise caution and respect. Thanks!

Our next stop along our journey south would bring us to Fowl Cay, just outside of the southernmost boundary of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. The wind was northwest and the small cove on the northeast side of the island, offered good protection and holding over a sandy bottom. We spent time spearfishing amongst the rocky ledges and scattered coral heads just beside our boats, where we encountered a good size Lemon shark working the deeper water. As a result, we thought it would be a good time to explore the caves of the "Rocky Dunda's", that is just a short dinghy ride across the cut.

The caves were truly amazing, stalagtites of many colors that seemed to form face like shapes, like something out of Disneyworld. You must time your visit there with the low tide, so that you can access them, as they are almost covered at high tide. I didn't think I would enjoy seeing the caves as much as I did, and would highly recomend a visit if nearby.

There are many anchorages in the area to explore, like Bell Island etc., and you could literally spend months in this area alone! Many small islands with pure white sandy beaches, most of which are deserted, or have only a few residents. Check your Yachtsman's Guide for information before landing on any of these islands, as some are private property, and no trespassing is allowed.

South from Fowl Cay, took us to Rat Cay, or Tamarind Cay as it is now called. The entrance from the banks side was confusing. Snow Gose led the group in, as she usually did, because she carried the least amount of draft, and would radio back info as we went along. We were seeing a consistant 6 1/2 feet of water, and our 4' draft provided an ample bit of distance between us and the bottom, even though there was a bit of a chop building. But for "Sunshine Reggae", their 5 1/2' draft was just too much, and were touching the sandy bottom every so often.

We came to anchor on the east side of Tamarind Cay in the dark blue channel over 24' of water. A strong current here will require the setting of two anchors. The water was incredibly clear, and after mistakingly dropping a spoon overboard, we could see it very clearly as it lay on the bottom. We did some spearfishing there, on some of the rocky ledges nearby, and ended up getting several snappers. We cleaned the day's catch on a nearby rock, only to have a hungry Lemon shark prowl the area, like a guard dog at a junkyard, this was his teritory. Time to get back to the boats!

Our next port of call would be Staniel Cay, the small settlement there would provide a place to buy diesel fuel and fresh water. As we approached, we encountered a squall that reduced the visability to almost nothing, so we slowed to a crawl. Soon the rain had stopped, allowing a clear view of the range markers (the radio tower, and if I remember correctly, the Happy People Marina). We anchored among the many cruising sailboats, just west of the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.

We purchased diesel fuel at the Yacht Club, and bought about 20 gal. of fresh water at the Happy People Marina. The settlement has two small general stores, which stock the basic provisions if needed. That evening we enjoyed a visit to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, where many cruisers gathered to watch the Winter Olympics, which was being shown on their satelite TV. Dinner is also available there, but I believe you must notify them beforehand. The Yacht Club is a very quaint place, decorated with cruiser's burgees from all over the world.

Fresh bread is also available, from a local woman who can be contacted on the VHF ch 16. Just place your order, and pick it up her house, in the southern part of the settlement just a short walk away. You might be able to get a lift back by her son in his golf-cart, Very casual!

We motored Snow Goose north through the cut between Big Majors Cay and Little Majors Cay about a mile or so, and anchored at the northern tip of Little Majors. There was a nice deserted beach there and good protection, but with the usual strong current. It was very pretty there, and called on the VHF to our friends, to come and join us, as there were no other boats around. Five boats of friends came to anchor nearby, and spent the afternoon together diving and beachcombing. That evening we had a wonderful beach party. We gathered with our friends around a fire, cooking our fish, having a few "sundowners", singing, and socializing. A very special night that we will never forget.

All of the boats in this group were heading south. After much discussion, the deeper draft vessels were convinced on taking the outside passage, while some were inclined to sail on the banks side. It was the last chance that we would be able to sail on the banks side of the Exuma chain, as the water tends to get very shallow south of Cave Cay Cut. Our destination was Farmer's Cay. There was a small settlement there, as well as several choices of anchorages. The entrance from the banks side, was a channel with about 6 1/2 feet of water, not enough for some boats, but ample enough for Snow Goose.

Our sail that day from Staniel Cay was absolutely perfect! The winds were just forward of the beam at about 20 knots, and because we were sailing on the protected banks side, the water was almost flat. The sun was shining, the stereo was playing some great reggae music, and there was not a boat in sight. The smell of coffee brewing, and fresh banana bread baking in the oven, was coming from the the galley below. This was set to a background of turquoise water over a pure white sandy bottom.

As we approached Farmer's Cay, and neared the entrance to the the channel, we were greeted by a group of dolphin, that swam along with us and played in our bow wave. They stayed near for some distance, but seemed to reach a point where they turned about face, never to be seen again.

We anchored in the eastern part of the harbor (bay) adjacent to the barrier island there, in a narrow channel with about 11 feet of water over a sand bottom, close to the beach. The entrance there was a bit tricky, as what seemed like the deeper, dark colored water, in actuality, were rocks over a shallow bottom. The white water, which is usually very shallow, turned out to be about 8 feet deep. At the last moment, my instinct guided me towards the light colored water, that thankfully led us safely through. During our stay here at Farmer's, we saw numerous boats run aground on this very spot, so I must express a word of caution. Also, we found that the holding on the west side of the harbor was POOR. A thin layer of sand over a hard bottom. Several vessels there could not get their anchors to set properly. The east side, where we anchored, had good holding as well as protection.

Farmer's Cay has a small, very modest settlement, with a general store, and the Farmer's Cay Yacht Club. Many of the cruisers gathered at the yacht club for conch fritters and sundowners. The Farmer's Cay Festival is held here annually (F,F,F,F,F...First, Friday, Febuary, Farmers', Festival) drawing many numbers of cruising sailboats. Hermit crab races are one of the many lively events that are enjoyed by the large numbers of visiting sailboats.

We had found that in this bay, was the best conch (pronounced ...konk) fishing that we had ever experienced in all of the Bahamas. In the middle of the harbor there, in about 5-7 feet of water, we found many legal size conch. We were tought how to clean and prepare them by a fellow cruiser. I have to say that of all the seafood, including lobster, I find that conch is by far my favorite.

We spent days here, exploring the modest settlement, as well as the nearby islands. There is fresh water available in a well on the western barrier island. I would NOT use this for drinking water, but for washing etc., you might give it a try. Use your own judgement! We fished on the Exuma Sound side of the island, as well as in the cut itself, but the current there can be VERY strong, so slack tide is a must. The spearfishing was not as good as the conching, but then I'd much rather eat conch than fish anyday!

Next - South through the Exumas, a trip through paradise

On to part II

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