Bahamas Banks to Morgan’s Bluff

Woke at 06:15 to tune into Chris Parker’s morning Bahamas weather net on 4045 khz SSB. Made strong Wee Happy coffee and got ready to haul anchor to get off the Great Bahamas Banks and into the tongue of the Ocean. We decided to head for New Providence Island, where Nassau is located. From there we could make it to the Exumas in just one more day of travel. The trouble was that the wind would be on the nose and strengthening. We hoped that we could make it to Nassau before the chop got too bad and the headwinds too strong. It was 60 miles to the anchorage at West Bay on the west end of New Providence, so it was going to be another long day. Actually it was another passage like crossing the Gulf Stream, except without the strong current. The sun was out, the temperature was nice, and the winds were only around 5 to 10 knots.

On our way around the Northwest shoal marker that doesn’t exist we saw a sailboat going right over the shoal from the anchorage that we almost made it to the night before. Our paths crossed as we converged to go through the narrow channel into the Tongue of the Ocean. They hailed us on channel 16, and it turned out to be s/v Midnight Express from Marathon. We’d met there when we lost our kayak paddle in a serious blow. They lent us their paddle while we searched the mangroves. People said that we’d run into people we know in the Bahamas, but seriously out here in the middle of nowhere?!!! We motored together into the wind until our ways separated as they headed to Chub Key and we headed towards the Nassau area.

The Tongue of the Ocean is a mile deep, just like the Gulf Stream. So after 60 miles over the banks in water no deeper than 20 feet anywhere, we suddenly found ourselves in over 5,000 feet of water. The winds were out of the southeast…directly in our line of travel. To make West Bay before dark, we’d have to keep going at least 4 knots for 12 hours or so. Our plan B was to head to Morgan’s Bluff on the northeast tip of Andros, and our plan C was to head to Chub Key, the southernmost island in the Berrys.

We made good progress in the beautiful grand bleu of the ocean. Most of the time we were alone in the great splendor of lapis blue below and baby blue above. We made love in the sunshine with no one around for dozens of miles. What a treasure of an experience to make love on a sailboat in all of God’s glory.

A few hours later, as we were closing on New Providence, the winds and seas reared up quite a bit. Our Albin Vega was beating hard to windward by motor and was bobbing like a cork, so we flew full canvas and fell off the wind enough to see how high we could point and how fast we could sail The closest we could aim to our target was about 30 degrees to the east of it. We were beating hard to windward and making headway, but only 3 knots. That wouldn’t get us into port before sundown. So we started the motor again (dammit! We are supposed to be sailors!!!). We furled in the jib and kept the main up for stability. With enough throttle to keep our average speed over 4 knots so we could make port by sunset, we were beating HARD. The bow was coming fully out of the water every two or three waves. By this I mean that we were doing wheelies. Not fun with a 6,000 pound vessel that is supposed to stay in the water, not out of it!

16 miles to go. 4 knots. Four hours of hell.

We like to think we are tough, but we really had no desire to keep stressing ourselves and our vega out like that. If we didn’t have to be in port before sundown then we could just turn off the motor and sail to windward at a lazy 2 or 3 knots without popping wheelies and pegging our blood pressure. If we didn’t mind beating up our boat and ourselves, we could just pound ahead for 4 hours at 4 knots.

Why push though? Really!

We changed course and headed for Morgan’s Bluff on Andros. Instantly the sailing was blissful and beautiful on a nice reach. The waves were just so close together that when we were pounding to windward we were getting slammed every 3 or 4 seconds. The path to New Providence from the Northwest channel can really be surprisingly hard in even moderate winds.

We let go of the idea of trying to push on to catch up with our friends Sara and Trevor on s.v Earendil. Oh well. We tried! Maybe we’ll run into each other later. In the mean time, we’ll be exploring Andros: the island where (next to) nobody goes in the Bahamas.

We made the entrance channel to the anchorage just before sundown, which made us nervous because we were heading directly into the setting sun. Talk about blinding glare and lack of visibility!!! I was wearing two pairs of polarized sunglasses, and that still wasn’t enough to look into the horizon for long.

Lucky for us, the channel is very well marked by Bahamian standards, and the entrance channel is easy for small craft in most conditions. We motor sailed in, took a left and found a sweet spot to anchor nestled into the southeast corner of the bay. There are only five other sailboats here, and they are all relatively small. Your boat has to be to explore Andros. The big boys can’t play here because the waters are simply too shallow. Sweet! We like remote exploration off the beaten path. We don’t care to go to the big cities and crowded anchorages.

Andros sounds wicked cool anyway. It’s the only island in the Bahamas that has natural fresh water. It literally has fresh water springs welling up within. It also has “blue holes” all over the island where there is a circular pond of sorts with fresh water on top and then thousands of feet of salt water beneath. They are reputed to be the most amazing blue. Andros also has fresh produce!!! That’s nearly unheard of in the Bahamas! Oh yeah, there’s a fiber craft / weaving community here too, so we are excited to explore.

We were so tired after crossing the banks and getting only 5 hours of sleep before our day on the tongue of the Ocean, that we could barely set our anchor without crying. Once we got it set right though, we made dinner and uncovered the interior of Wee Happy. We took out the outboard motor that was sleeping on the starboard half of our bed in the v-berth. Found the port side of the v-berth was soaked, and so were all the books on the port side of the shelf at the forepeak of the v-berth. Some of the water that went over the bow while we were beating to windward must have made it inside through the hull/deck joint and the front hatch. We’ll have to get some caulk out before our next passage!

We transformed the bathroom from a storage closet back to a bathroom. We unearthed the couches in the main cabin. Our vessel became a snug cozy place to hang out again, and we dove into bed for a much needed full nights sleep in calm protected waters. Still can’t imagine sleeping while crossing an ocean or while hove to for the night. Nice sheltered anchorages with flat water are just SOOooOoOOoOOOo nice!!! After three days of almost constant travel, the cats finally got out to play on the deck.

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