Setting Sail Once Again-Bahamas Bound
Trip Start Dec 09, 2006
224Trip End Ongoing
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We targeted an early November passage. On October 3 the boat was launched and on November 7 at 0640 we departed Dennis Point Marina for the southern trip down the Chesapeake (making one stop at the Severn River in Mobjack Bay) to Norfolk. In Norfolk we docked at Cobb’s Marina, where we would monitor weather forecasts for a favorable pattern to depart for sea to begin our passage to the Bahamas. We had decided to stage at Cobb’s Marina as a convenient location for boarding our crew, one of whom lived nearby, as well as visiting with several friends in the Norfolk area. We recruited Dave’s brother Pete from Bumpass, VA along with veteran crew member Wally from Virginia Beach to make the passage with us.
We hoped to stay as briefly as possible at Cobb’s but some unusual weather delayed us and we ended up arriving November 8 and staying until Thanksgiving evening. A large portion of the delay involved the formation of a late-season low pressure system in the southwestern Caribbean which could have followed a traditional path right over the southeastern Bahamas—our precise destination. So, we continued to delay our departure until a consensus on its path became known. It did in fact become a named tropical storm "Otto", and strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane. Fortunately, Otto took an unusual path westward over Central America and off into the Pacific.
With Otto out of the picture we focused once again on a reasonable weather pattern heading into Thanksgiving week that could carry us southward. Much earlier we had foregone weather that was too mild—we would have had to motor 75% of the distance and had no interest in doing that. Then Otto delayed us further. Finally, a window was presenting itself for Thanksgiving night into the following day and beyond. We would bear some initial 24 hours or so of motoring so that we could sail in brisk wind for the balance of what would likely be a 5-day journey. Thank goodness Norfolk was experiencing some fabulously warm weather in the low '50s to upper ‘60s during all this time and it would continue to make for a warmer start to our journey despite the late November date.
We would target either Cat Island or Mayaguana as destinations within the spread-out Bahamas chain. Our goal this season would be to begin cruising in the southeast Bahamas and head northward with what would be the favorable prevailing eastern winds, wrapping up in the spring back in the Abacos from which we already had two other crewmembers enlisted for a return passage home. Mayaguana was the preferred strategic destination as it would be the most farthest east point we planned to travel, and thus, the most farthest upwind in the prevailing easterly winds during the winter. We’d get all of our “easting” over with right off the bat. But Cat Island was the preferred tactical destination as we had cruised there before, there were no reefs to cross to get to a safe anchorage, and we were comfortable making arrival during the night if needed. (It’s almost impossible to plan for a specific arrival date for a passage of four or more days, much less so a specific time of day as it’s impossible to accurately predict wind speed and direction and from that an average passage boat speed.)
Regardless of the final destination, the early portion of our route would be the same: depart the Chesapeake Bay and parallel the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina just offshore to the vicinity of Cape Hatteras, then head south east to cross the Gulf Stream. Once across the Gulf Stream, turn south towards the Bahamas. We would not have to decide on Cat vs Mayaguana as a destination for a couple days and could better weigh our arrival options as weather forecasts were updated and the distance to both potential destinations got shorter.
We departed at 2138 on Thursday, November 24, Thanksgiving Day, leaving the Chesapeake on an ebb tide and motored as expected in the light winds. We motored for almost 24 hours and got across the Gulf Stream before winds became sufficient to begin sailing. The mostly southern-component wind direction early on favored a largely eastbound course until moderate north winds arrived and allowed us to head south. Then we endured a couple days of winds of varying speed and direction and worked our way farther east than the longitude of Mayaguana, expecting strong east winds to arrive. Being farther east than necessary would allow us to eventually turn a bit downwind to either destination when the winds increased which would result in more comfortable sailing for an extended period.
And boy, did the strong winds arrive! During the evening on November 28, east winds of 20 to 28 knots with gusts to 34 knots arrived and stayed with us for the duration of the passage. This was 5 to 10 knots higher than forecast. This resulted in very fast, but very intense and rough sailing. The apparent wind direction was right on the beam and even with deeply reefed sails Pas de Deux galloped over the waves at speeds we wished were a bit slower. We had two moonless nights with Pas de Deux hurtling into the inky blackness with no difference between sea and sky and no way to anticipate the frequent deluge of sea water off the bows and over the boat.
We didn’t catch any food fish along the way but caught and released two marlins before the strong winds arrived. After that Pas de Deux was likely traveling too fast for doing any catching. Over the last 48 hours we traveled 423nm when our speed was averaging slightly more than 8.8 knots reefed as we were.
On Thursday, we all ventured into the small settlement of Abraham’s Bay to accomplish gaining internet access via our new SIM card, and took a lengthy walk.
Pete and Wally took an afternoon excursion with the dinghy to explore the coastline for bonefishing while Dave and Donna took some time to clean up the boat from all its “winter” trappings. The following days a combination of all of us or some of us made other excursions seeking the elusive hangouts of bonefish.
We began Monday’s trip to the airport walking roadside. Scully offered us a ride from his perch at the town’s park center, as he performed a role for departing BahamasAir flights, but he wasn’t due to leave for some time, offering that we meet him farther down the road. We continued walking some distance but were soon met by incoming electrical utility truck driver Mr. Baldie whom we had met on the same road and chatted with a couple days earlier. He promptly offered us a ride to the airport even though it would mean him heading in the opposite direction. The airport was quite distant—not at all a reasonable walk laden with luggage. We happily accepted his offer (Dave and Wally with the luggage hopped in the open truck flatbed, Pete and Donna in the cab). Because we were quite early for the flight, he went so far as to take us just beyond the airport where we could reach a hilltop for an expansive view of the harbor and Pas de Deux anchored in the far distance. In the same spot was a Thor Missile Tracking Station commemorative statue describing the recovery of the space capsule off the shore of Mayaguana containing the first “color moving pictures” captured of the planet Earth from space—certainly a claim to fame for this remote island.
Wally and Pete successfully boarded their plane, which unfortunately would leave late and throw a bit of a wrench into Pete’s connections home, but we’re sure he found the trip worthwhile nonetheless. Smartly uniformed and with the utmost courtesy so typical of resident Bahamians, local police Sergeant Burroughs offered Dave and Donna a ride back to town in his police vehicle after the flight safely took off, which saved us a good couple of hours of walking!
We spent the remainder of the day tidying up and transitioning Pas de Deux from passage mode into leisurely cruise mode. On Tuesday, Dec. 6, we baked an apple pie with the leftover apples from the passage (Dave sliced the apples, Donna prepared the crust). A nice treat for what Dave later realized was the 10-year anniversary of his purchase of Pas de Deux.
The weather forecast for Wednesday, Dec. 8, called for moderate winds that would allow us to get to the East Reef to explore that area for bonefishing and visit Booby Cay and its native resident protected iguanas, so we planned accordingly. It would be a motoring trip of about 2-1/2 hours into the wind. This would give us a chance to run a load of laundry in the washing machine, make some pizza dough in the breadmaker, run the watermaker, dump our holding tank well offshore, and be fishing to boot! We had one strike but no hookup on the journey. We entered the East Reef through its well-sized cut and began to explore its depths and bottoms for a suitable anchorage. In doing so, Dave spotted a very large flock of flamingos on a sizeable spit of sand in this bonefish heaven brochure picture-perfect area and we headed the boat in that direction.
We arrived shortly after noon, and by the time we settled in and had some lunch, we had just enough time left with high sun to swim to a nearby patch reef for snorkeling. Good exercise and lots of squirrel fish who were more curious than fearful of us—likely they don’t get too many human visitors….
The following morning, we dinghied to shore with our bonefishing gear and spent hours of fun on gorgeous picture postcard pink sand shallows. We arrived about 90 minutes into a rising tide from its low, the waters still quite shallow and the flats and shoals highlighted with gin-clear sparkling water. We spent several minutes taking photographs that would include the hundreds of flamingos lingering (as they would all day) on the sandy spit. After putting away the cameras on high ground, and approaching the water armed with fly rod and spinning rod, it would be only minutes until Donna spotted bonefish and Dave went to work, eventually hooking a good-sized specimen while Donna took photos. Much fun!
After hours of fishing, we walked a good portion of the perimeter of Booby Cay searching for what would likely be an elusive iguana. Fortune would have it that we were able to see some of the iguanas, but not because we are expert at knowing where to find iguana hide-outs. On our shoreline walk, we passed a camp of 3 (absent) local fishermen (whom Dave had met the day prior when they passed by the boat in their skiff asking if we had some tomato paste they could have—we donated tomato sauce and they promptly asked if we would like some conch in return…). At the fishermen’s camp, it became obvious that they fed the iguana, as there were a few of them roaming around waiting for their next meal.
On Friday morning, we returned again for another 4 hours of bonefishing, but no luck this time. We spent more time getting great photographs of the flamingo flock, then returned to the boat around 1330, ate lunch, and settled in to begin compiling this blog.
We departed East Reef on Saturday morning, Dec. 10, for a nice leisurely sail back to Abraham’s Bay trolling 2 fishing lines—still no luck. We were returning to this bay for additional shelter from significant winds (gusts in excess of 30 knots) that were due to arrive Saturday night and persist through Sunday. On Sunday amidst a squall blowing through we found that our spare anchor light which Dave installed 9 days earlier had already failed. With a small catamaran anchored nearby to starboard we temporarily lit our cockpit during the blow in the event they slipped anchor and would need to see us to safely reposition.
The winds abated a good deal throughout the day Monday, Dec. 12, and would continue to do so on Tuesday. It was looking like by Wednesday afternoon or certainly Thursday with the forecast mild winds we could take a dinghy excursion to attempt some more bonefishing. A trip to the Northwest Point was not yet in the cards for this week. Another cold front would be cycling through on Friday night again, Dec. 16, with gusts of 30+ knots and persist through what could be the middle of next week. At least we weren’t in the northern portion of the Bahamas (e.g. Abacos)…they would have gusts in excess of 40 knots with squalls that could bring significant persistent winds. The strong winds associated with the cold fronts cycling off the continent are strongest in the northern areas of the Bahamas—another reason to be well south in the first few winter months.