February 3rd – February 5th, 2015 (-5 on UTC)

Dear Friends and Family, (Written from Isla Mujeres, Mexico – February 23rd, 2015)

So right up front I’ll tell you that TITSNBN stands for, “That Island That Shall Not Be Named”….Hint: It starts with a C has a U, B and ends in A….more on that as the blog progresses!

We decided to go “The Adventure Route” toward Mexico as to do otherwise from the Bahamas left us in a sort of a, “You can’t get there from here” situation. The reefs of the Southern Bahamas are very wide and shallow with lots of obstructions that make traversing them at night – not such a good idea.

As such, we decided to go down the West side of Andros Island. It is far and away the largest of the Bahamas and one of the least populated. It has no really good anchorages and is essentially a 100 mile long mangrove swamp with shallows extending out for several miles to the West. It does have appeal to bone fisherman, serious nature observers, biologists and in a few places – adventure diving.

We departed Chubb Cay and had to take a circuitous route to the West before finally heading back south and East to what would be our first anchorage at the bigger of the two Cross Cays near the Northwest end of Andros Island. The charts showed very shallow depths over the Great Bahama Bank and once or twice, we saw water as shallow as 5 feet! Nikki has on her IPad, the same navigation charts we use on our main system and hers have the “bathyspheric contours” at high zoom levels. I can download these for the main system and will do so IF we ever get good enough internet.

Nikki's IPAD had the additional Sonar readings which were a great help when entering and finding an anchor spot.  Without these contours, we just saw a few isolated "spot soundings".

Nikki’s IPAD had the additional Sonar readings which were a great help when entering and finding an anchor spot. Without these contours, we just saw a few isolated “spot soundings”. Our anchorage is where the Green Fish Icon is. The rock reef you see was a quarter mile wide. Depths are in feet!

The contours were very helpful in seeing where we could access a good anchorage site with good wind protection, but not in TOO shallow an anchorage. We anchored in the southern lee of Big Cross Cay and had a very pleasant night. The next day, we looked at going to Billie Island, about 1/2 way down the West side of Andros, As we looked ahead at the weather, it was go now, or sit for 3-4 days. So off we went on the 110 mile trip toward Anguilla Cay on the Cay Sal Bank which is part of the Bahamas.

The weather issue this season has been the US Cold Fronts. They have been stronger and more frequent than usual. If you’re wondering….this does not have anything to do with “climate change”. The good news was that our plan of crossing the Gulf Stream right up front when we went to the Bahamas would now pay off. We had light winds first from the North, then the East and as we broke free of the Great Bahama Bank at 8pm had very good sailing weather from the East which found us on a port tack beam reach. Going to Anguilla Cay was always a case of, “if the weather allows” plan as well as Cay Sal. There is a triangular bank south of Florida, north of Cuba and West of Andros with lots of very small islands. In good weather it would have been lots of fun, but the weather wasn’t with us. As such, we were abeam of Anguilla Cay at mid night and then were able to head due west with the winds constantly shifting toward the South. We got around “the corner, just in time.

We now had a choice. Press on 3-4 days to Isla Mujeres in Mexico or go into Cuba at Varadero. Given that the weather was not favorable to sit on the Cay Sal Bank anywhere and that we had some nagging boat issues, we decided to head into Varadaro, Cuba, one of Cuba’s 7 International Ports of Entry.

We had a fuel leak in our generator which caused a noxious smell and was a potential fire hazard. We had an engine “kill” switch that wouldn’t work requiring me to manually shut the port engine down every time we wanted it to stop and finally, the port engine’s oil pressure gauge was a bit on the fritz. It often read dangerously low, too low, despite my finding no leaks and checking the oil level. The oil however does drop about a 1/2 a quart every 24 hours which is a bit of a mystery. It may be what is called “blow by” where the cooling oil get around the rings of the cylinders and is burned up with the fuel. We use a very low viscosity synthetic oil and this could be why this is happening?

Anyway, discretion is the better part of valor as my Mother used to say, so we decided to see if we could get some help with the issues in Varadaro. As such, we decided to announce and declare a “Pan Pan” situation. “Pan Pan” is a French term used in the maritime world to give notification that certain issues may be developing that need to be dealt with. It is advisory in nature and not a call for help as “Mayday” would be. We certainly had no immediate danger.

We arrived about 2 miles from Varadaro (north coast of Cuba – 85 miles East of Havana) when finally I was able to hail a port authority. He told me that I could not enter as Varadaro was now closed to International Boats. Why? We would learn soon! We had to turn around and bash back through the building Northerly wind and swell for 15 miles. Two hours prior, we were just off Marina Gaviota which is at the end of the Varadaro Peninsula. We were being “observed” and given some directions to the outer buoy at the bay. We could easily see on the charts where we were supposed to go and followed a big tug into the bay. Of note, we saw at least 8 miles of what seemed to be big hotels with lots of tourists on the beaches – kite boarders, Windsurfers and Hobie cats. Just like any other tourist island in the Caribbean.

Nikki getting our dock lines and fenders out just before the Northerly cold front hit.

Nikki getting our dock lines and fenders out just before the Northerly cold front hit as we entered the inner harbor at Marina Gaviota, Cuba.

After our big bumpy ride back to Marina Gaviota, a big rain storm hit and visibility inside the bay went to zero. We had plenty of sea room, so I just stopped and waited for it to go away. This was the front, we came in here to duck. When we got to Customs Dock, it was blowing 20+knots and keeping us from easily docking as the wind blew at us directly from the beam. The young guy helping us turned out to be the Customs Officer and finally he and Nikki were able to handle the lines and we could pull ourselves in. A Canadian boat in front of us came to assist with the lines, but our Customs Officer did not want them to help. We assumed due to liability should any of them get hurt?

Once tied up, Sr. Fromida came aboard as well as Tomas, the Dock Master. They were very formal, very professional and very official. Both spoke quite good English. When were were about 1/2 way from Marina Darsena (Varadaro) back to Marina Gaviota, we were hailed in pretty good English to assist us in getting in ahead of the frontal weather. It turns out, that was Sr. Fromida. He turned out to be great guy and was very helpful.

Customs in Cuba for boats is open 24hrs/day. Sr. Fromida did indeed do a thorough inspection of “Beach House” and helped us dutifully fill out all the proper forms. Tomas came aboard and was also very nice and a great professional. He gave us the Harbor fees, etc. Shortly thereafter, the Health Inspector came aboard. They’re big concern (or so they said), was people carrying Ebola! It turns out the stated reason for not being able to enter at Marina Darsena in Varadaro was that, “their incinerator for international garbage” doesn’t get hot enough. More on this in our next blog! We think that that was not the real reason….:-) After taking our temperatures and asking if we had any recent fevers, etc., the Dr. said he would return every day for four days to observe our health. We never saw him again…….

Next is our stay in Cuba (AKA: TITSNBN)…..

Stand by, Scott and Nikki

February 2nd, 2015 – Continued (-5 on UTC)

Dear Friends and Family,

On Friday, in the midst of my marine procuring expedition, we decided to take the “Bo Hengy II”, the local ferry that comes from Nassau everyday and continues on to Harbour Island which is supposed to be quite up market and full of the “R&F” (rich and famous). While waiting, we met Anneke and Tom from s/v “Elisa” which Tom had sailed from Holland to the Caribbean a few years ago. They Winter in the Caribbean and then go back to Holland for the summers; leaving the boat on the US West Coast. We became fast friends and hired a golf cart at the end of the ferry ride together. The ferry ride took us through, “The Devil’s Backbone” route which locals suggest hiring a pilot to do if going on your boat. Frankly, in calm conditions, it would have been a piece of cake. It was calm and the 150 foot long, 50 foot wide, 6 foot deep “Bo Hengy II” blasted through without any issue. The ferry ride was about an hour and it would have taken us much longer in “Beach House”. Also, if the conditions did get breezy, you might get stuck there for awhile. All in all, the ferry ride, though expensive at 102.00 USD round trip for the two of us…was the way to go.

We had a nice lunch at “Sip Sip” right on the north shore above the Pink Sand Beach. The place was packed and interestingly, almost all the tables were groups of young women. Why? We don’t know, but apparently one group was a birthday party and it must be a great hang out. The food and drink was great, but very expensive, the atmosphere delightful. We enjoyed carting around and arriving at 11:30 and departing at 3:40pm was just about right. If you wanted to really explore Eleuthra in more depth, it would take a car as it’s over 100 miles long despite being only about 1/2 mile wide on average.

When we got back to the marina, we made plans to come outside and stay in the anchorage as Anneke and Tom would be leaving to do our route to date; in reverse.
We would be off to Chubb Cay in the Berry Islands, about 65 miles back to the west. It’s always great to meet people you hit it off with well, but sad to depart; especially so soon. We had Anneke and Tom over to “Beach House” and talked about our experiences sailing and life in general. It was a lovely evening.

The next morning, “Elisa” up anchored about an hour before us and waved goodbye as they began their trip north to the Abacos and on back to Florida.

Nikki and I motored back along the inside of the reef (yet again watching out for that wreck) and enjoyed a 50 miles downwind joyride. We even had to gybe!
Winds 12-22 knots, full main and genoa poled out to windward. We passed the odd big ship and a few cruise ships en route. We anchored in the same bay we did last year and tried to stay awake to listen to the Super Bowl. I made it to half time and despite the game sounding like a great one in the making was just too tired to stay awake any longer. I heard on Sirius Radio the next morning that New England won the game.

Today, we’re just hanging out at the anchorage, watching the weather which should turn favorable for our next part of the journey.

Our ultimate destination is Panama but we wanted to avoid the full force of the Gulf Streams northerly current. Ideally, a north wind would be great to push us south, but that goes right into the chops of the Gulf Stream if you depart directly from Florida which makes for a long, slow and potentially uncomfortable ride. As such, we’re going to to what we’ve deemed “The Adventure Route” down the West side of Andros Island. Andros is the largest island in the Bahamas and nearly un-inhabited. It’s the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world and a Biologists wonderland. Essentially, it’s a huge mangrove swamp. I suspect Manatee’s and Alligators might find this a perfect home away from humans. Only those who really go off the beaten path travel out there. The west side of the island for 50 miles to the west is very shallow. The charts look good and we’ve the Navionics Soundings on Nikki’s IPAD which really show the depth contours. We’ll most likely make two stops in preparation to jump to Anguilla Cays which is part of the Cay Sal Bank. Not only does this route avoid the Gulf Stream, we might even get a little “counter current” assisted push. The Cay Sal Bank is the most remote part of the Bahamas and almost in eye sight of Cuba.

Out intention is to go from Anguilla Cay to Cay Sal and depart west from there. It’s weather dependant and definitely the path less traveled. Hopefully our fuel line won’t be too much of an issue. To date, I’ve been able to clean it up and store the waste fuel out of the engine room bilge into our waste oil containers.

So…KIT (Keep in touch!)
The adventure continues…
Scott and Nikki

February 2nd, 2015 (-5 on UTC)

Dear Friends and Family,

We’re on email only from now till we get to Mexico…so no photos in the blog till then.

We write you today from windy Chubb Cay. We’ve had steady winds – ESE to SE at 15-22 knots over the last day. We’re anchored behind the mole outside the harbor, it’s a bit bumpy, but really fine.

We really enjoyed our time in Hope Town and did some bicycle touring of the island as well as met some interesting folks. It’s a cruisers hub for sure and I would recommend the stop to anyone coming to the Abacos of the Bahamas. We especially liked our lunch stop at the Seabreeze Marina.

We departed Hope Town for Little Harbour at the very south side of the Abaco Sea. It shortened our next days sail and turned out to be a great stop. We’re shallow draft enough that we could enter the inner harbor where we secured a mooring. In the season, this place probably really gets crowded. They told us that after Valentine’s Day till June, it will be non stop busy. There is a nice beach bar (reminiscent of the Soggy Dollar in Jost Van Dyke) as well as a large sculpture studio and sales office where the local Johnston family has been for at least 80 years. Some lovely cast bronze pieces and they have their own foundry on site.

We left Little Harbour on the falling a.m. tide and departed the reef for the 65 mile trip to St. George’s Cay in the Eleuthra Group. The sail was nice, winds 12-20 knots from the NE and we made great time. When we entered the reef system, there was a mark on the chart to see a wreck. I couldn’t see it till we were only 100 yds. away! It was above the water by only 3 feet and about 15 feet long. I’m sure there is a story and a lot of underwater steel there, but it would be easy to miss which of course would be disastrous.

We motored west along the south side of Royal Island; a resort that was financed by football great Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys. It seems that it didn’t work out and looked well kept, but closed. When we arrived at St. George’s Cay, we had to wait for the ferry to enter and had to do a few loops for a couple of exiting boats. The entrance was maybe 70 feet wide, so we were given lots of radio “thank you’s”.

No moorings were available for our size boat so we decided to stay at Yacht Haven Marina for one or two nights. They had great power, water and their internet was some of the best we’ve seen. I was able to top off the diesel, fill a propane tank and check out the marine store. It’s not an emergency as such, but we’ve discovered that our generator fuel system is leaking. Essentially, the boat was built around it and it’s effectively inaccessible. As such, Mike Lonnes suggested we try and find some USCG A-1 fuel hose (good luck with that!) and run the fuel and return lines via a new serviceable route. We would then simply plug off and abandon the old copper tubing system. Another small matter was a speaker on our outside system went out which we were sure would require us to wait till Panama to get fixed.

Low and behold! The first day, the store told us they only had 30 feet of the correct hose. On Saturday morning they cleared 200 feet via customs and we were able to buy the fuel hose. Great timing or good fortune…we’ll take it. Putting it in will be another matter completely. I may need some expert carpentry assistance as well as a mechanic. We hope to be able to wait till at least we get to Mexico assuming the problem does not become worse. Next, we went to the R&B Boat Yard next door and they actually had marine exterior speakers as well as a few fuel plumbing parts we’ll need in the future. Who knew?

I’m going to end this as “Part I” due to the fact that when we remote post our blogs, if they’re too long, they don’t post properly…
Stand by, the rest will be out within a few hours.
Scott and Nikki