Pristine and remote are two words that come to mind when describing the Far Bahamas. We experienced more challenging sailing grounds, with bigger distances, bigger seas and bigger storms as we travelled through these remote islands.
We reached Georgetown in the southern Exumas, and we were faced with some tough decisions on where do go next. We had a month and a half before the start of hurricane, and as a new sailors we want to be somewhere safe for that period of time. We decided to continue going southeast, which means taking on the so called Thorny Path and see if we can get south of the hurricane belt by June.
We spent a week or so preparing the boat for our next journey from Georgetown. There are longer distances to cover and each island is surrounded by open ocean with rougher seas and fewer protected harbors to run from any bad weather.
We did 12 dingy trips with our 10 gallon jugs to fill the boat water tanks, fully stocked our fridge, pumped out some sediment we found in our fuel tank and topped off the tank with diesel, and we were ready to leave the Elizabeth Harbour anchorage in Georgetown. It was Friday, April 13th and I thought this should be our lucky journey, as good things happen to me on the 13th. We anchored at Hog Cay on Long Island but had to stay there for a few days as we waited out some heavy winds directly against us before we continued sailing to Rum Cay. Our plan was to catch a mild front that was moving south from Rum Cay all the way to Mayaguana. As luck would have it, we had some excitement along the way.
The predictions were calling for some mild southeast winds with which we were hoping to sail a close reach from Long Island to Rum Cay. We had a nice two hours of sailing until the predictions didn't hold true and we ended up travelling with the wind blowing right on our nose the rest of the way through. We started a long process of tacking back and forth through the wind, when quiet suddenly, the wind disappeared. A large squall built in front of us and started pooring rain, within a minute we couldn't see anything in front of our boat. We thought that it was strange, that there was so much rain, but no wind at all. Once the rain lightened up, Jeff noticed that there was a tornado approaching us from behind. The sight of the approaching tornado at sea is not something anyone wants to see...We turned on the radar to see its direction and with Jeff's good helsmen's skills were able to run away from it. The tornado dissipated quick enough to ease our biggest concerns, but we were left with a long motor sail to Rum Cay with plenty of lightning just behind us.
By this time it was getting later in the day, and we started wondering if we will make it on time to our anchorage in Rum Cay. Rum Cay is full of nice coral reef for diving, but that requires some good daylight to safely navigate through. At this point we were motoring as fast as we could and at about 18:20 we were happy to set our anchor for the night.
The next day, we woke up early to walk Znak and continue on sailing southeast. The mild front came as predicted, so we were proceeding with our plan to ride it for about 180 nautical miles until we reach Mayaguana. The day started off nicely, as DD sailed over 6 knots. A few hours later, the seas started building up bigger and bigger. Swell was coming from the remants of some distant Atlantic storm, but the front began to build up swell from a different direction. When these two swells combined the seas began to rise up steeply. After our tornado encounter the day before, we were a little skittish when we saw some large clouds building up ahead. We turned on the radar and could see the squall waiting for us up ahead.
Jeff had to take over the steering wheel, as the big seas that rose up like tall buildings around us made me very uncomfortable to continue at the helm. I was a bit worried and tried to occupy my mind with something else, rather than the rising seas. I noticed that our mizzen mast started vibrating, and began moving back and forth like never before. Once Jeff confirmed my new discovery, we decided it was safer for us to change the plan, find some shelter for the night and deal with this newly discovered issue. We dropped the mizzen sail, changed our course (and in the process broke our boomvang) and sailed towards Clarence Town on Long Island. The change in course brought us some relief from the waves and we had a rather pleasant sail to our new unplanned destination,
Clarence Town ended up being a very pleasant stop with a friendly marina, beautiful harbour and some locally grown produce (which is a rarity in the Bahamas). It is also home to the world's second deepest blue hole, which provided some amazing freediving.
As we missed out on riding out the mild front when we turned around, we now had to wait out some heavy winds that followed with it blowing directly against the direction we needed to go. We were beginning to see why it's called the Thorny Path. We spent about a week in Clarence Town, waiting for our next weather window while fine tuning the rigging on our mizzen mast, along with some other boat projects we had been postponing. It was a productive week, and with the clean boat bottom and propeller, new kitchen sink hose, tightened up standing rigging and Jeff's first climb of the mizzen mast we were ready to try reaching the island of Mayaguana once again.
It took us 22 hours to get to Mayaguana, we were making good progress and ended up slowing down at night to arrive at the island during the morning sunrise. It was a hot day, and for the first time I was actually excited for some night sailing that brought some cooler temperatures. We mostly motor sailed and the journey went pretty uneventfully, besides being hit by a small squall shortly after leaving Clarence Town and having a cute porpoise swimming in the wake of our boat.
We spent just a few days in Mayaguana, a beautiful, isolated island perched at the southeast end of the Bahamian island chain, and were greated there by friendly locals of a small settlement. We met "Smokey" who drove us into town and treated us to some cold beer, as his friend named "Scully" hooked us up with some diesel. When we returned to our dinghy, our diesel jugs had already been filled and were waiting for us at the dock! The next day we checked out with the Bahamian customs and immigration, had one last fantastic snorkel and had a restful night's sleep before moving on to our next destination.
All three of us were sad to leave these beatiful islands but also ready to continue our journey into the Caribbean.
Alena, Jeff & Znak