June 30, 2015
We had an uneventful passage from Charleston to Marsh Habour, Abacos in the Bahamas. We had originally planned to stop at Spanish Cay at the north end of the Abacos to clear in with Customs, but were making good time and had perfect conditions, so we decided to continue on to Marsh Harbour, another several hours. We anchored and launched the tender and Bradley set off to find Customs. He returned quite some time later with two customs officials who came aboard Shear Madness to complete their paperwork. It seems they had had to come from the airport as there is no customs office at Marsh Harbour. But soon we were cleared in, with immigration forms and fishing permits in hand and ready for some fun.
We had guests arriving so we planned to stay a few days until they arrived. I visited the Batelco (Bahamas Telephone Company) store and purchased a local sim card so that we would have internet access. Service with Batelco is good, but you pay about $10 per gigabyte of data usage, so we do limit our usage when we use that system. The Abacos has a pretty good wifi system which you can purchase for $37 a week – which is a real bargain for unlimited bandwidth and we got our money’s worth out of that!
We visited Maxwell’s Supermarket in Marsh Harbour to get some milk and a bit of fresh produce, it’s a REALLY nice store. Not only is it well-stocked, it is super clean, and items are painstakingly stocked on shelves in neat rows. I watched a man putting items on a shelf, lining them up precisely, stepping back to be sure it was perfect, and obviously taking great pride in his work. That pride seemed to be reflected in every aspect of the store.
Our guests, Ben and Amparo are a couple who are contemplating some cruising on their own in the next few years, but wanted to get a sense of what the cruising life is really like. Their adventure began when we instructed them to take a taxi from the airport to the Marsh Harbour Boatyard where we would pick them up by tender. Soon we had them and their luggage safely down a ladder and into the tender.
After getting them settled in the guest cabin, Bradley suggested we go out for some snorkeling, so we set out in the tender. Though Ben had been snorkeling before, it had been a long time and it was the first time for Amparo. This began a number of “firsts” for them. After a bit of time at a nice reef, we returned to the boat to dine on the mahi we had recently caught.
The next day, we were underway for a short 4 hour trip to Little Harbour, a little to our south. Though we were only going 12 miles south as the crow flies, Marsh Harbour is situated west of a number of small Cays (islands) with limited places where we can pass through. It is also too shallow for us to head directly south on the “inside”, so this meant we had to go north to the Man O’War channel to get out into the ocean, then head south, then back inside through another entrance to an anchorage at Lynyard Cay. So the trip was close to 25 miles in total. But is was great conditions for our guests’ first venture offshore and soon they were assisting with engine room checks and were getting familiar with the radar, sonar, AIS, and chart plotting systems.
One of the more renowned spots in the Abacos is Pete’s Pub, not far from our anchorage, so we headed there for a wonderful lunch, accompanied by the famous house drink, The Blaster. Pete’s is an outdoor (but covered) bar, with T-shirts from many visitors hung everywhere. We were proud to add a Shear Madness T-Shirt to the collection. Ben and Amparo also got a chance to try paddleboarding, another first for them, using our inflatable Sea Eagle board.
Next it was time for a longer trip, this time 50+ miles to the Island of Eleuthera. Conditions were again very nice, meaning we could put out the fishing lines! We could also open up the flybridge and enjoy a wonderful breeze and fabulous views. Ben and Amparo were soon doing hourly engine room checks on their own and updating our underway logs. And it wasn’t long until the first fish was on the line! Bradley took the rod for this one and we slowed the boat down until a nice size Mahi Mahi was landed. Once it was cleaned and secured in the fridge, the lines went back out. Before it was even done being set, another fish was on. This one was Ben’s – his first time catching a fish and he soon had it on board. It was a bit small to keep so we decided to release this one.
Soon we were anchored at Meeks Patch, near Spanish Wells, Eleuthera. Spanish Wells is a charming fishing village and we went ashore to explore. There is a good size fleet of commercial fishing boats in Spanish Wells, mostly very well maintained, neat and tidy. The town is lovely too, with some amazing white sand beaches, devoid of people, and lovely homes. There are few cars – the most common means of transportation is golf carts but it takes only a few hours to walk through the whole town. It also has a well stocked grocery store where we picked up some fresh milk. And there are coconut palms everywhere, so we found a nice coconut on the beach which Bradley later opened using a machete, hammer, and various other tools. Again, it was the first time Ben and Amparo had tasted coconut fresh from the tree!
The winds were supposed to shift a bit to the south and intensify a bit over the next couple days, so we decided to move to an anchorage a bit more protected near Current Island, just a few miles away. I also saw, through Facebook, that another Nordhavn, the 47-foot Oliver, was also in Eleuthera, so we made contact. Although we were only about 10 miles apart as the crow flies, they were on the east side of Eleuthera at Harbour Island and we were on the west side. To reach each other by boat was a trip of at least 20 miles by tender, or even more in the big boats. So that was not feasible. We decided that getting to Harbour Island would make for a good adventure. We were not far from a place called The Bluff Settlement, where we thought we might be able to get a taxi over to the Ferry Dock where the ferry runs from the mainland to Harbour Island. The first challenge was where to leave the tender. We reached The Bluff at near low tide but found no dock or convenient place to leave the tender. We left it barely afloat in shallow water and tied off to a fishing boat that was not going anywhere until the tide came in.
Getting ashore was interesting as we had to traverse shoe-sucking mud, but we made it. We met a couple local guys who said the tender would be safe where it was. They even called a taxi for us and it arrived within ten minutes. From there, it was a ten minute ride to the ferry dock where 15-year old Oliver picked us up in his tender and took us to his boat Oliver. There we met his parents, Marc and Natalie who explained that young Oliver actually runs the boat and that’s why they named it after him. He gave us a tour of the boat and we were all impressed with his knowledge and expertise. Then we borrowed their rented golf cart for some exploration of Harbour Island, a beautiful and charming place with beautiful beaches and several nice resorts. We sampled some cracked conch, conch fritters, and peas and rice, all Bahamian staples, for lunch. Next it was back to the ferry docks, another taxi ride, then Bradley had to strip down to his “speedo” to fetch the tender as the tide had come in since we left!
Next it was time to head south to the Exumas, with our first stop Highbourne Cay, a trip of just over 50 miles. Again we had ideal conditions, arriving just in time for happy hour and our patented Shear Madness cocktails. The next day it was time for some more snorkeling with Bradley nabbing his first spear catch of the season – a nice snapper which, with Amparo’s cooking skill, made a nice dinner indeed! We then did a short move of just a few hours down to Compass Cay where we anchored at Fowl Cay. This put us close to the underwater caves at Rocky Dundas which are well worth the visit. We also visited an underwater airplane, most likely from the old drug running days, but now an interesting snorkel site. The currents in that area are quite strong, so we had to run a line from the tender to hold onto as we looked over the plane. Then Ben and I did a drift snorkel, moving along at quite a rapid pace over some interesting reefs while Bradley followed along in the tender, eventually picking us up.
The last stop with our guests was at Big Majors, the anchorage just around the corner from Staniel Cay. Here we visited the famous swimming pigs, enjoyed some meals at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, visited the numerous and friendly sand sharks at the Yacht Club, and snorkeled at the famous Thunderball Grotto. We also once again met up with Oliver, who anchored nearby for a couple days and joined us for some tubing and a wonderful dinner aboard Shear Madness. Ben and Amparo made good use of our tandem kayak with several long expeditions to explore. We continued to have Shear Madness cocktails, lounge in the flybridge, and enjoy some spectacular sunsets. Ben and Amparo also got to experience some of the “realities” of cruising when our primary freezer and the toilet in their cabin decided to quit working. The freezer problem was troubling as we had filled our four freezers to capacity prior to departing and it was our two sub-zero freezer drawers (and ice maker!) which were not working. Bradley removed the drawers and found ice on the compressor. Using a blow dryer he melted it and the freezer worked – for a little while. Then it stopped again. Once again it was taken apart but this time we let it sit for half a day, moving its contents to the other freezers and the less important stuff to the fridge. Fortunately this time the freezer came back and has worked fine since. We may just have had it too full. As for the toilet, we fortunately have 5 toilets on board, so decided just to take that one out of commission until we get back to the US as it will likely need some parts.
All too soon it was time for Ben and Amparo to depart. It turns out the airstrip at Staniel Cay is closed for repairs, so we had to drop them at nearby Black Point about 8 miles south. We decided to move over there with the big boat rather than take them in the tender. That gave us a chance to enjoy lunch at Lorraine’s Café, which turned out to be very fresh and tasty! After lunch, Lorraine even gave us a ride to the airport where we bid a fond farewell to Ben and Amparo. We hope to see them again!
Here’s the route we covered with Ben and Amparo, totaling about 225 miles: