With weather impeding our progress to get far enough south to Grenada before hurricanes started up, we're heading in the opposite direction to a land full of lobsters and blueberries and (mostly) off the main path of the hurricanes, Nova Scotia. Our new plan!
Changing plans and turning around left a void feeling in our guts, but we collected our emotions and with whatever positive spirits we had left - we started our long sail north to Canada.
The day of our departure from Turks and Caicos arrived, the wind was howling and gusting to 35 knots. We had never sailed in these type of conditions before, but the weather predictions called for these type of conditions indefinitely, so we had little choice. We were also keeping an eye on a tropical disturbance (i.e. potential hurricane) that was developing in the Western Caribbean. It eventually evolved into a Tropical Storm before the official start of hurricane season, but luckily for us it didn't form into anything significant in our area, bringing nasty weather to the Gulf of Mexico and some unsettled weather to the northern part of the Bahamas.
Our sail back to the southeast Bahamian island, Mayaguana, was brisk, and with our jib and mizzen (small rear sail) we were sailing on a broad reach at over 6 knots (fast for us!). The swell was quite large at about 6-8 feet, but fairly comfortable since it was on our stern.
The next day we sailed from Mayaguana to Attwood Harbour, which ended up being even more fun and fast, if also a bit stressful. With similar winds we figured it wouldn't be any worse than our trip the day before from Turks and Caicos, but after two hours on the water, we found bigger waves building and had the new experience of surfing on our boat. Our arms and feet were sore from steering and there were times when the waves towered high enough and we sat so low in the wave's trough that we couldn't even feel the wind until we soared back up the next crest.
Surfing the waves provided an opportunity to compete, and Jeff won the highest speed achieved under sail at 12.1 knts and I came second at 11.1 knts - not bad for a heavy displacement boat like ours!
Once we arrived to Attwood Harbour we were greeted by a few friendly sailors who were both impressed and surprised to see a boat arriving in those weather conditions. The anchorage had great protection from the weather and was on a long, sandy beach, so we decided it was time to rest for a few days.
Over the next few days the wind calmed down to 20 knots and we were fully rested to continue sailing. We stopped at Clarence Town for a night and had a fantastic sail at 6.5 knots with calm seas to Conception Island. Guides describe Conception Island as a "paradise within a paradise". Never trusting overly enthusiastic guidebook descriptions, Jeff and I were quite skeptical of the description, but we were truly in awe of this island's beauty and agree with those guidebooks now. We fell in love with its remoteness, its pristine beaches, world class diving and the clearest water we have seen in all of the Bahamas.
As we were anchoring, a lemon shark showed up and circled the boat for some time. We were excited to explore the underwater life the next day. The snorkel of the northern tip of the island is now one of our all time favorites. The coral looked complex, healthy and vast. We loaded our small dinghy with all of our dive gear and ventured off for a long ride to a dive on the southern tip of the island. The seas were running a little big for a comfortable set up of our dive gear, and we ran into a small squall along the way. The diving however was amazing and totally worth any inconveniences along the way.
As soon as we jumped into the water, there were two lemon sharks swimming by. They looked peaceful and were on the move somewhere else. It brings us a lot of joy to dive on our own as we feel completely submerged into the ocean world. Since we didn't know the area, it took us a few minutes to locate the wall drop off, which started fairly deep at 26 m. During the dive we saw another lemon shark, which sneaked up and startled Jeff, a few sting rays, lots of angel fish and enormous Nassau groupers. The current was very strong, so even though we thought we were taking it into account at the start of our dive plan, we couldn't locate our dinghy upon ascent. The waves were making it a bit difficult to figure out where our dinghy was anchored, but after a few minutes we noticed it and had to swim back to it against the current.
Unfortunately, Conception Island is a good stop only in fair weather, so we had to leave it the next day as the wind was picking up and our anchorage would became exposed to wind and swell.
On our way to Cat Island, we anchored for a night off Little San Salvador, owned by a cruise ship company. We couldn't go on shore, but it looked strange: full of amenities and deserted at the same time.
During the morning sail the next day, we were sandwiched between a few cruise ships travelling in the area. As we got away from that traffic, we caught our first mahi-mahi! There was a bit of panic at the start, as I was handling the sails and Jeff was trying to bring in the fish. It was a nice gift from the sea, as our moods in the morning were clouded with sad thoughts of soon leaving the Bahamas and this liberating lifestyle of cruising we got into.
After a short and uneventful stop in Cat Island we sailed to Eleuthera, where we explored Governor's Harbour, probably the nicest town we have seen in the Bahamas. The surrounding water colour was greenish, but it was much more lush and full of vegetation compared to the Exumas and the Far Islands.
We spent a few nights around Spanish Wells before we sailed to the Abaco Islands, the last chain of islands in the Bahamas for us. Up until Abacos, we had fantastic wind that kept us moving north quickly but in Abaco we encountered a dead calm, without even the slightest breeze, for more then two weeks. The high pressure ridge that stalled all the wind in our area also brought some daily nasty squalls. We slowly motor sailed from island to island through the shallow Abaco sea.
Daily activities were hard to plan, as thunder clouds would start building in the morning and it would rain and thunder for most of the day. We snorkeled a few times and managed to get in a nice dive. The visibility of water wasn't great during the dive, but I found a new friend under water! A huge Nassau grouper came right up to me. I was surprised, as normally fish just swim away. I wanted to see how close this grouper would come to me, so I lifted my arm towards it and was astonished when my hand actually touched the grouper. Again, instead of swimming away, the grouper actually liked it and was demanding more "pets" under her chin! We swam closely together for a while, until Jeff and I were running out of air and needed to ascend. I never thought that fish could be affectionate. Upon surfacing the water, we were greeted by another heavy rainstorm.
We spent the final few nights in the Abacos falling asleep on the deck, staring at the night sky, full of stars and playing with the water for a free bioluminescence show. We will miss this place. Once we reached the most northern island in the Bahamas, our dingy died half way to the town. Jeff rowed to town, where we were informed that the island ran out of diesel, with no timeline on when they will be getting more. There was still no wind in the predictions, and we need to keep moving north out of the hurricane zone...
Till next time,
Alena, Jeff & Znakie Boy