After a few months back working, we are back onboard. The boat was safe and sound after it’s 4 month stay in the Papeete marina, and we spent nearly two weeks at anchor inside the reef in Tahiti, re-aclimatising to being back on board, cleaning the hull, re-provisioning and generally getting back into the liveaboard life.
By that time we were itching to move on, so after getting our duty free fuel from the marina we headed out, skirted around the island and headed towards the nearest of the Tuomotu atolls – Makeatea. Large waves and a dreary sky were not an encouraging first sail.
Lesley soon felt the
start of sea sickness and after putting a few things more securely, when to
hibernate on the leeward settee below.
The boat seemed to love the conditions and with minimum sail we ploughed on through the night towards the atolls. As the wind backed, it became evident that we were not going to make our intended destination without an even more uncomfortable bash to windward so we decided on Tikehau instead – another 50 miles further but a much nicer sailing angle.
We arrived at lunchtime and took a look at the pass which seemed ok. A quick radio to see if any other boats could advise on the tidal stream and after a reassuring affirmation from another cruiser we went through. Perfect timing – a gentle outgoing current and flat water! We prefer to have slack water or current against us since its easier to slow down or even stop if the sight ahead looks unwelcoming, something that is very difficult is there is a current pushing you onward towards the dangers.
Once inside the atoll our world stopped pounding up and down and became more civilised. Lesley started to smile again and we followed the well marked Channel to the anchorage on the eastern side of the atoll, sheltered from the prevailing winds.
Days start quietly on Tikehau. From the sky, this graceful atoll looks like a crown of white and pink-sand beaches shimmering around the Tikehau Atoll lagoon making it almost too breathtaking to be true. Only about 500 Tahitians call this tranquil world home, generations of fishermen whose lives revolve around the sea. And, it’s a life of both peace and plenty. After a few days of just enjoying the peace and quiet, and continuing the never ending list of boat jobs, we took a dinghy ride with another boat to the Manta cleaning site – a place where Manta Rays congregate to be cleaned by remoras. We tied the dinghy to the buoy, donned the mask and flippers and jumped over to take a look. We were not disappointed – within minutes we were treated to a circling Manta ray, well over 2 metres across just metres below us. The water was not as clear as some places but it was an amazing sight and went on for about 30 minutes.
We had read about the ‘Eden Isle’, or ‘Garden of Eden’ where you could supposedly visit and obtain freshly grown vegetables so we up anchored and took a trip up the eastern side of the atoll. Once ashore we were welcomed by a taiwanese gentleman who gave us a tour of their island.
The ‘prophet’, Elijah Hong, from Taiwan and leader of a sect called the NTC (New Testament Church) traveled around to search for a place to start their Eden project. There are also similar settlements in South Africa and California. When he came to Tikehau he said that he felt that God meant that this was the place. They then purchased a motu in 1997 and have lived off the land using natures resources and ‘farming as they did in the beginning.’
We were given a tour with fascinating explanations and ate cherries, mulberries and a variety of different leaves, that we would not have been able to differentiate from weeds. We were given aubergine, chili peppers, lettuces and basil. They also had vanilla growing and made their own sea salt as well as keeping chickens and pigs. We also purchased a cute pearl necklace and some rough pearls.
After another tough day, enjoying the peace and tranquility of the bay we opted to head back down the atoll to the village, where we went ashore, had a wonder around, bought bread, onions and ice creams, grabbed a bit of wifi from the post office and stretched our legs.
We left Tikehau early the next morning, to head for the largest atoll in the Tuamotus, and the second largest atoll in the world; Rangiroa.
We were lucky that our timing on both passes worked out well – no waiting around and flat water. Once inside Rangiroa, we headed for the anchorage where we have been ever since. The weather has not been great – very wet and squally, so we have yet to go ashore. However it is set to dry up later today, so fingers crossed.
Flights from Santa Marta to Medellin are very reasonable and it is one of the major cities in Columbia with a notorious history, at one stage having the dubious title as the most dangerous city in the world..
For us it was a chance to see something of the interior of Columbia rather than just the coastline. It is now a much safer place to tour than in recent years.
One of the notorious residents of the city was Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria who was born in December 1949. He was raised in the city of Medellín and is thought to have begun his criminal career as a teenager, eventually becoming involved in many criminal activities running petty street scams, selling contraband cigarettes, fake lottery tickets, and stealing cars.
In the early 1970s, prior to entering the drug trade, Escobar acted as a thief and bodyguard, allegedly earning US $100,000 by kidnapping and holding a Medellín executive for ransom. He began working for Alvaro Prieto, a contraband smuggler who operated around Medellín, aiming to fulfil a childhood ambition to have COL $1 million by the time he was 22. Escobar is known to have had a bank deposit of COL $100 million (more than US $3 million), when he turned 26.
Beginning in 1975, Pablo started developing his cocaine operation, flying out planes several times, mainly between Colombia and Panama, along smuggling routes into the United States.
In May 1976, Escobar and several of his men were arrested and found in possession of 39 pounds (18 kg) of white paste, attempting to return to Medellín from Ecuador. He tried to bribe the Medellín judges who were forming a case against him. After many months of legal wrangling, he ordered the murder of the two arresting officers, and the case was later dropped. This began his pattern of dealing with the authorities, by either bribery or murder.
As there were no drug cartels then, and only a few drug barons in Peru, Pablo would buy the cocaine paste, which would then be refined in a laboratory in a two-story house in Medellín. At first, he smuggled the cocaine in old plane tyres, Soon, the demand for cocaine increased, and Escobar organised more smuggling shipments, routes, and distribution networks in South Florida, California, and other parts of the country developing a new trans-shipment point in the Bahamas, an island called Norman’s Cay about 220 miles (350 km) southeast of the Florida coast. We had visited here when we’re in the Bahamas! Escobar and Robert Vesco purchased most of the land on the island, which included a 1 kilometre airstrip, a harbour, a hotel, houses, boats, and aircraft, and they built a refrigerated warehouse to store the cocaine.
From 1978 to 1982, this was used as a central smuggling route for the Medellín Cartel. With the enormous profits generated by this route, Escobar was soon able to purchase 7.7 square miles of land in Antioquia for several million dollars, on which he built the Hacienda Nápoles. The luxury house he created contained a zoo, a lake, a sculpture garden, a private bullring, and other diversions for his family and the cartel.
At one point it was estimated that 70 to 80 tons of cocaine were being shipped from Colombia to the United States every month. In the mid-1980s, the Medellín Cartel was shipping as much as 11 tons per flight in jetliners to the United States (the biggest load shipped by Escobar was 51,000 pounds mixed with fish paste and shipped via boat. Roberto Escobar, his brother, also claimed that, in addition to using planes, two small submarines were used to transport the massive loads.
Escobar was the official representative of the Colombian government for the swearing-in of Felipe González in Spain. He quickly became known internationally as his drug network gained notoriety; the Medellín Cartel controlled a large portion of the drugs that entered the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Spain. The production process was also altered, with coca from Bolivia and Peru replacing the coca from Colombia, which was beginning to be seen as substandard quality than the coca from the neighbouring countries. It is alleged that Escobar backed the 1985 storming of the Colombian Supreme Court by left-wing guerrillas from the 19th of April Movement, also known as M-19. The siege, a retaliation motivated by the Supreme Court studying the constitutionality of Colombia’s extradition treaty with the U.S., resulted in the murders of half the judges on the court. M-19 were paid to break into the Palace and burn all papers and files on a group of cocaine smugglers who were under threat of being extradited to the U.S. by the Colombian government. Hostages were also taken for negotiation of their release, thus helping to prevent the extradition.
During the height of its operations, the Medellín Cartel brought in more than US $70 million per day (roughly $26 billion in a year). Smuggling 15 tons of cocaine per day, worth more than half a billion dollars, into the United States, the cartel spent over US $1,000 per week purchasing rubber bands to wrap the stacks of cash, storing most of it in their warehouses. Ten percent of the cash had to be written off per year because of “spoilage”, due to rats creeping in and nibbling on the bills they could reach.
When questioned about the essence of the cocaine business, Escobar replied with “the business is simple: you bribe someone here, you bribe someone there, and you pay a friendly banker to help you bring the money back.”
In 1989, Forbes magazine estimated Escobar to be one of 227 billionaires in the world with a personal net worth of approaching US $3 billion while his Medellín Cartel controlled 80% of the global cocaine market. It is commonly believed that Escobar was the principal financier behind Medellín’s Atlético Nacional, which won South America’s most prestigious football tournament, in 1989.
While seen as an enemy of the United States and Colombian governments, Escobar was a hero to many in Medellín. He was a natural at public relations, and he worked to create goodwill among the poor of Colombia. A lifelong sports fan, he was credited with building football fields and multi-sports courts, as well as sponsoring children’s football teams.
He worked hard to cultivate his Robin Hood image, and frequently distributed money through housing projects and other civic activities, which gained him notable popularity among the locals of the towns that he frequented. Some people from Medellín often helped Escobar avoid police capture by serving as lookouts, hiding information from authorities, or doing whatever else they could to protect him.
The Colombian cartels’ continuing struggles to maintain supremacy resulted in Colombia quickly becoming the world’s murder capital with 25,100 violent deaths in 1991 and 27,100 in 1992. This increased murder rate was fuelled by Escobar’s giving money to his hitmen as a reward for killing police officers, over 600 of whom died as a result.
Eventually, the government negotiated with Escobar and convinced him to surrender and cease all criminal activity in exchange for a reduced sentence and preferential treatment during his captivity. Declaring an end to a series of previous violent acts meant to pressure authorities and public opinion, Escobar surrendered to Colombian authorities in 1991. Before he gave himself up, the extradition of Colombian citizens to the United States had been prohibited by the newly approved Colombian Constitution of 1991. This act was controversial, as it was suspected that Escobar and other drug lords had influenced members of the Constituent Assembly in passing the law. Escobar was confined in what became his own luxurious private prison, La Catedral, which featured a football pitch, giant doll house, bar, jacuzzi and waterfall. Accounts of Escobar’s continued criminal activities while in prison began to surface in the media, which prompted the government to attempt to move him to a more conventional jail 1992. Escobar’s influence allowed him to discover the plan in advance and make a successful escape, spending the remainder of his life evading the police.
Following Escobar’s escape, the United States joined the manhunt for Escobar. They trained and advised a special Colombian police task force known as the Search Bloc, which had been created to locate Escobar. Later, as the conflict between Escobar and the governments of the United States and Colombia dragged on, and as the numbers of Escobar’s enemies grew, a vigilante group known as the”People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar”) was formed. They carried out a bloody campaign, fuelled by vengeance, in which more than 300 of Escobar’s associates, his lawyer and relatives were slain, and a large amount of the Medellín cartel’s property was destroyed.
After becoming wealthy, Escobar created or bought numerous residences and safe houses, Escobar also owned a home in Florida and a massive Caribbean getaway on Isla Grande, the largest comprising Islas del Rosario, located about 22 miles from Cartagena.
16 months after his escape, Pablo Escobar died in a shootout on 2 December 1993, amid another of Escobar’s attempts to elude capture he was hiding in Los Olivos, a middle-class barrio in Medellín. He was shot and killed by Colombian National Police whilst trying to escape. Soon after Escobar’s death and the subsequent fragmentation of the Medellín Cartel, the cocaine market became dominated by the rival Cali Cartel until the mid-1990s when its leaders were either killed or captured by the Colombian government.
We were interested to learn more about what it was like during this period. The people we spoke to preferred to not give notoriety to Escobar, as they felt this was funding his family.
Medellin had much to offer, it is build in a valley and expands up many hillsides. To help residents get to work, various transport systems have been built, including cable cars and escalators. It was fascinating to ride them and explore the different regions of the city.
After a couple of days exploring metropolitan Medellin we ended by heading out to Guatapé (Pueblo de Zocalos), home to the magnificent Peñol Rock (La Piedra del Peñol) on a 12-hour tour.
As well as ascending the 742 steps leading to the summit, we visited traditional villages such as Guarne and Marinilla, and enjoyed a sightseeing cruise on Lake Guatape.
Many of the houses are painted brightly often with scenes depicting the trade of the inhabitants
We left at 5 am with an Easterly wind which increased to perfect downwind sailing with the Parasailor. A two day sail was planned, broken by a stop over in a large bay, Ensenada Huaritcheru, before arriving in Santa Marta.
The first day was champagne sailing with everything working as it should. We caught a small Mahi but it jumped free before we could land it and something else bit through the trace in one bite without any effort – probably best that we didn’t try to get that one on board!
We arrived at the anchorage of Ensenada Huaritcheru early afternoon and got some rest. We planned a lunch time departure to arrive for what was promised to be a spectacular sunrise over the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The next day we set off in a brisk force 5 wind with an uncomfortable quartering sea. We did manage to catch a very nice Tuna just as it was getting dark.
Once we rounded the Cabo De La Aguja headland the sea state calmed and we were able to have a gentle arrival into Santa Marta.
We were met by the marina rib and escorted to our berth with plenty of help around to take lines.
It was great to be able to assess the boat and clean her off, unfortunately we had a tear in the main sail, probably from a spreader end which would need investigating.
We were not allowed to explore the city until the formalities had been completed but enjoyed a social in the marina seating area, catching up with fellow rally sailors and exchanging tales from the trip.
We woke at 5:30 and left the anchorage at Santa Cruz, following the earlier departures. We followed the trail of navigation lights, like ants in a row to our next destination, Oranjestad, in the dutch island of Aruba.
The wind was initially too light to sail but once we cleared the land and the sun came up we popped Pippa the parasailor up and away we went. A comfortable average of 8.9 and hitting 10 knots surfing down the waves. We were overtaking other boats and loving the sail to the southern tip of the island.
On arrival at the designated check in port we were turned away at the entrance and told to sail back upwind to a different port to check in there – rather frustrating.
By the time we beat back other boats had already docked to proceed with check in. The paperwork had to be collected from all the boats and driven to the main offices. We rafted up and joined the wait. Eventually the documentation was completed and we sailed back to the anchorage, right under the runway and by the cruise terminal.
After a couple of days we decided to find a quieter anchorage in the north of the island. Not however before we went as a large group to see the excellent film Bohemian Rhapsody at the local cinema.
In the northern anchorage we spent a few days diving and exploring the lighthouse and catching up with other rally participants.
We returned to the runway anchorage for check out. Much smoother as paperwork was collected for all of the boats, processed and returned without us needing to go alongside their awful docks – geared up for commercial ships not yachts.
From here, the next stop was to be Santa Marta in Columbia, with an overnight stop scheduled in the bay of Ensenada Huaritcheru, just around the Cabo de la Vela.
Our friends, Steve and Fiona on Supertramp kindly offered us a lift to Williamstrade to do the check in (a relatively simple process but one that involved different offices on different sides of the water), which saved us an all day trip on the bus and meant we also had time for a trip to Island Water World, Budget Marine and the hardware store – bonus!
Lesley’s daughter and a friend visited us and enjoyed a few days of sun and relaxation with us. With many rally participants already there, the social activities had started and we joined in the noodling and SUP (Stand Up Paddle board) yoga exercise groups.
A short walk from the dock there was great snorkeling at the Tug Boat Bay and under the fort, and we even managed to test out the new dive gear we had brought out from England.
Derek installed the solar panels and two wind generators on the arch, connecting everything to give us fantastic power production. He also enjoyed building the stainless ladder and Bimini tightrope, to enable main sail preparation and packing away – just like a big boy’s Mechano set. The design was inspired by Suzie Too when we met them in Martinique last season.
We enjoyed a range of Suzie Too socials including the quiz night (but didn’t excel in our knowledge of the island) and a great beach bbq and dinner at the Boca 19 resort. The information session was good and it was great to meet the manager of Shelter Bay marina in Panama that we will be visiting, and hear how our friends Caroline and Bill are getting on there.
After a shopping trip for some fresh groceries we were ready for checking out. This was made so much easier by having customs and immigration at the resort rather than having to trek into town. Just one of many benefits tirelessly organised by Susie.
Refueling for the next part of the trip should have been a simple procedure but had a little surprise in store. Whilst waiting for the fuel dock to empty, we were close to the shallows just drifting. When we got close, we tried to motor clear only to find that the engine, which was running smoothly on idle refused to increase revs and power us away. Luckily engaging reverse allowed the revs to reluctantly increase and we avoided the shoals but we had to re-anchor to establish the cause.
It transpires the problem was the refurbished alternator we fitted in Trinidad. It produces a huge amount of power at low revs but also a lot of drag on the engine. Since the batteries were fairly low, it was trying to develop maximum electricity and the engine did not have the power to overcome the drag on idle. Luckily we have a sophisticated regulator so we were able to throttle the output a little which meant the engine could rev freely. A simple but unexpected fix that could have caused a nasty situation.
All fixed, we left for Santa Cruz, a bay on the western side of the island ready for an early departure to Aruba the next day.
Sadly we didn’t get to explore much on the island, but we did manage to get all our parts fitted and attended some great social events, and met new rally friends.
The wind is forecast to be light and from the East, we have got all the parts on board and there is time to checkout and get duty free onboard, so we do it, just running into their out of hours customs charges as it is 15:45. It does take until 16:15 to complete all the paperwork even though we were at immigration for 15:00. The charge was minimal and our remaining currency was spent in the duty free store, conveniently situated next door to customs and right by the dock.
It took us another six hours to store solar panels and put the contents of the lazerette and tools away ready for sailing.
By 22:00 we were leaving the Bocas del Dragon, a fast flowing Channel between Trinidad and the Islands to the West, into an area called the ‘Dragons Mouth’.
It was a bumpy ride, where the tidal stream meets the Equatorial current that began to sweep us westward. Dolphins accompanied us out, their shape and wake looking like torpedos in the bio-luminescence, visible in the dark water under the black sky.
Once we were clear of land everything settled into an easy motor sail, not enough wind to get us going without the engine. We were both tired and started short watches to enable each of us to get some sleep. We extended our watch system to four hours once we were in the familiar groove.
Dawn on day one at sea brought a beautiful sunny day but still no wind. It’s so beautiful to be in open water which is clear of floating debris. Dolphins came to play around the boat briefly and no fish were caught. By the evening there was just enough wind to turn the engine off and sail slowly under a starry moonlit sky enjoying the peace after having the diesel engine throbbing away all day.
A larger pod of dolphins stayed with us for over an hour entertaining us as it got dark. The stars were fantastic, with many meteors or shooting stars. After a very busy 5 months it was quite therapeutic to be so connected with nature again.
Dawn on day 2 at sea saw sufficient breeze to raise the Parasailor, this was an hour’s exercise to prepare the sheets and sail ready for the hoist.
After a small tangle in the lines was sorted she was flying, but by then unfortunately we could see rain and the wind had died again. We doused the parasailor and left her hanging secure in the sock and decided on a clean up of the aft deck. This had been the storage area for all the ropes and sheets whilst we had been pulling wires through for the new arch. We hoped the rain would help rinse the dirty sludge we were loosening but it seemed to skirt around us, tantalisingly close. Eventually one did deliver the fresh water rinse we wanted.
The day’s wildlife we saw consisted of seabirds of several varieties as we approached the Islas Los Roques Islands. Our other company were two cargo ships that caused us to nearly be the meat in the sandwich between them.
There was a flying fish on the deck in the morning that would have fed the cat in Trinidad.
Another pod of dolphins came to play and this time Lesley was able to take a video clip from the cockpit. She also captured what appeared to be a sailfish swimming around us. It checked out the lures but didn’t bite, although Derek found that something had eaten his hooks! Just as we were tidying up at sunset we caught a fish! a Yellowfin tuna weighing 22lbs.
After a quiet uneventful night motorsailing, dawn on day 3 at sea left us with 70 nautical miles to go with an eta of Sunday afternoon at approximately 16:30.
We had hoped to stop in the Islas Los Roques islands and Bonaire to dive before arriving for the start of the ‘Suzie Too’ rally, however our delays in Trinidad meant we had to sail past both to be there for family arriving and the start of the rally festivities.
We arrived around 16:30 to cheers from Boca 19 Marina and Beach, where familiar friends were swimming at the regular ’16:00 Hrs Beer and Bob’.
Entering into Spanish Waters, we headed for the designated anchorage, ‘Anchorage C’, set up for the rally boats and were met by fellow rally participants Tim and Nancy, who we last saw in Trinidad, who came to help us with lines as we had to tie stern-to, to a long line, our home for the next week.
So we both made it back on the planned date leaving England on the 14 October. The airlines were fantastic, accommodating all of our extra luggage, even if one bag did follow on the next flight from Tobago to us! By the time we had our car hire the bag had arrived so no big drama, just a worrying hour as it happened to be the case containing the most valuable boat parts.
Customs glanced through the cases in Tobago and we had to present ourselves at the office in Chaguaramas for the official paperwork for ‘yacht in transit’ status to be formally concluded for all of our parts.
We arrived early evening and managed to find a ladder and haul everything up the 20 foot to the deck.
We were relieved to find the boat in good condition, no obvious mould or bug infestations. We headed to Zanzibar restaurant for food and then sleep.
For the next 25 days it was a grueling schedule of work to put the boat back together and prepare her for sailing. It was disappointing to find the work we had commissioned before leaving had not progressed in our absence. This we had read about so we started to chase up the contractors. In the end our delay was down to waiting for the solar panels and wind generators to arrive. We were able to track the cargo ship across the Atlantic and down the Caribbean chain of islands. We even identified it anchored in the bay behind us waiting to go into Port of Spain to unload. Once the ship had docked it took several days to get unstuffed and for our parcels to be released. In total 11 days from docking.
It was complicated by the fact that the value exceeded a certain figure and so normally a clearing agent is required. However, depending on who you ask, the value is irrelevant for yacht in transit. The conclusion was we needed an agent which we commissioned, and after all the hassles they arrived at customs to be told they weren’t needed! We finally got the goods anyway so were happy to be able to leave.
Our list of jobs got longer rather than shorter as we discovered new priorities whilst checking through everything. We were told that the boat bilge pump had been pumping out a lot of water when it rained. When it rains in Trinidad it is torrential, causing flash flooding in some areas and even a landslide over the road into the city. This is fairly normal for this time of year here, however this year was worse with prolonged periods of rain and devastating flooding where businesses and homes were completely flooded. We discovered the stanchions were leaking very badly, one of the reasons for our varnish work deteriorating in places.
We delayed our launch for a week to get through the below waterline jobs and to try and get the arch fitted on land (which didn’t happen!)
Working in the 30 plus degree heat is energy sapping and we were so glad of the portable air conditioning unit keeping the interior of the boat cool. This became our workshop.
The watermaker was fitted with its new pump and membranes but once we launched and tested it the circuit board blew a chip and we needed a replacement from America. There is a great freight forwarder called Ezone which we used to import the part. As we waited for the arrival of our new solar panels and wind generators we used them for several additional items.
One of the jobs we needed to do was to replace the bolts that were fitted to the reinforcing plate for our skeg (the protrusion that supports the rudder). This was rebuilt by Princess Yachts (who built our boat), when we bought her, and for some ridiculous reason, they used mild steel bolts. Steel rusts, and we could see a slight movement on the plate so we dismantled the rear cabin, emptied the lazarette and extracted the bolts. There really was not much left of them – shame on Princess Yachts for such cost cutting, it could have led to a much worse situation, had we not noticed.
Peake Yacht Services’ yard came highly recommended and did not disappoint. It has to be one of the best yards we have ever visited and certainly looked after us and the boat. They even have a shopping bus which runs on several days a week and can be booked for other trips like airport transfers and trips to customs etc.
It was a shame that we did not get to explore the island. Chaguaramas is fantastic for getting things done on the boat but is not a lovely Caribbean anchorage. The hard is hot and dusty with the accompanying noise of people working on boats from 7 until 6, with the ladder to negotiate regularly for practical events such as bathroom trips as well as work on the boat. After 11 days it was a relief to go back in the water.
We made friends with a cat that appeared to be abandoned.
It greeted us every morning and evening with the hope of being adopted we thought. In the beginning it tried to follow Lesley back to the boat but got the message as she circled back to the buildings each time and eventually stopped following her.
The water around Chaguaramas is clear but the colour of weak tea, there is so much debris, mostly man made, swirling around the bay including large pieces of bamboo and other tree trunks washed down after the flooding. As this is an area where the fishing boats offload their catch the is frequently a dead fish amongst the flotsam and jetsam. There is often a film of oil on the surface and a cloudy muddiness after the rains.
After launching, we stayed on the dock at Peakes for 10 nights before they needed the space and we moved to a buoy.
If there is space, you can stay on their dock for free for up to 5 nights after a launch – another great service they operate.
Three days after moving to the buoy, we stowed the solar panels and wind generators, checked out and sailed the 420 miles straight to Curacao
For anyone visiting we can recommend the following:
We left the Abacos via the North Bar passage and sailed directly to Eleuthera entering via the Little Egg Island passage. We made good time and sailed most of the way in glorious sunshine doing 6.5-8 knots, champagne sailing we call it!
We anchored in Royal Harbour, a protected anchorage entered through a narrow cut between rocks, with several other boats and hurried off the next morning to get through the Current Passage at high tide and supposedly slack water.
Unfortunately we had 2 knots tide against us but we managed through without incident and arrived in Governors Harbour by the afternoon.
Passing through Current Passage, we saw one of the oldest existing mailboats, the Current Pride, still in operation, delivering food and goods to the Islands
Governors Harbour is reputed to have very poor holding with a thin layer of sand over rock, but luckily for us the winds remained consistent in direction and the anchor held firm.
The aim of the dash to Eleuthera was to be there to collect the service parts for the Procon vane pump for the water maker. The delivery service provided by X-Press It to the islands is great, especially the communication about the progress of the package’s journey. Unfortunately it was delayed so we decided to have a change of scenery and move around the headland to Laughing Bird Cay. It was much nicer than being in a town by the dock and it was very protected from the East. We were able to paddle-board around the bay and to identify a good landing place for the dinghy to get access to the X-Press It shop for the next day’s delivery/collection. We also took a walk across to French Leave beach on the Atlantic side of the Island.
After a beautiful day the clouds started to gather and obscured what had promised to be a wonderful sunset. A storm was brewing and although the wind direction should be taking it away it was clear that the thunder and lighting were increasing and the storm was circling. We went to bed to faint rumbles and the odd flash of light and woke to a squall and rain at 1:00 am. We did the naked dash around the boat closing windows and settled back into bed. Only 5 minutes later and the anchor watch alarm went off. The wind had completely turned and was now blowing us on to the shore. The lights of the restaurant that had previously looked charming now looked threateningly close. As the 30 knots squall blasted us and the rain poured the thunder and lighting were now overhead. With 30 cm under the keel we needed to move quickly in case the anchor dragged taking us closer to the rocks. Lesley quickly doned a waterproof jacket and life jacket and braved the weather to pull up the anchor while Derek did well to try and steer the boat into the wind and away from danger in the pitch black, with no visual reference. We re-anchored further out in the bay and monitored how we lay. Happy that we were far enough from the shore, Derek went back to bed whilst Lesley made a cup of tea and waited for her hair to dry! With minimal water usage currently Lesley should have had a midnight shower on deck!
The storm rumbled away but kept circling as did the boat as the wind swung 180 degrees regularly. At 3 am there was a power cut on shore and complete darkness apart from some very bright lights which were running on an emergency generator. Alarms then sounded everywhere once the power went back on. At 5 am the wind and storm came back again but the anchor and 50 m of chain held well!
In the morning the wind had gone and our parts had arrived. On the dinghy ride to the beach we saw two enormous rays. Derek set to rebuilding the pump.
Successfully making water again we decided to explore more of the coast and move to Ten Bay beach for the night. A beautiful beach with crystal clear water. We had a good sail and were accompanied into the bay by a large pod of dolphins.
In the morning the wind started to move more southerly and the anchorage got more rolly. Lesley was baking in the galley but started to feel seasick, so it was a clear indication that it was time to move, or was that the effects of her cooking?
Rock Sound in South Eleuthera became our destination and a good departure point for heading for the Exumas when the wind eased. We spent another windy night at anchor and in the morning motored cautiously into towards the town. The guide book says that you can follow the furrows through the shallows ploughed by the mail ship that comes once a week! It wasn’t very complementary about the area. We found good provisioning and friendly people although clearly the economy currently looks in decline with several boarded up and neglected properties. We were not able to stay long as we needed to get back out to deeper water and shelter from the strong westerly winds the next front was about to bring before the tide ebbed.
We had a relatively peaceful night despite the front that came through, anchored with at least 80 cm of water beneath the keel, which by now was quite unusual in the shallow waters of the Bahamas. In the morning, we set sail for what many describe as the jewel in the crown of the Bahamas – the Exumas.
After a peaceful night’s sleep we woke to the warmth of the sun that we had been missing and craving so much lately and headed the few miles to check in at New Plymouth, on Green Turtle Cay. Unfortunately we needed $300 in cash which we didn’t quite have! Another yachtsman that we had never met before offered to lend us some cash (that’s the type of camaraderie you get with sailors) but in the end the local grocery store gave us cash back when we did some shopping. The island bank closed permanently in June apparently!
New Plymouth is a picturesque Caribbean village with everything you need at hand, except a bank! Several grocery stores, a hardware store, phone shop, liquor stores, restaurants, bars, a school and marinas.
We enjoyed wandering around, stocking up with fresh produce and bought some clear sealant to fix the leaking sink (again!).
Lady Rebel arrived and joined us having traveled a slightly different route to us on the way from America. We spent the next few days exploring the local sights together whilst waiting for our other friends to join us and to celebrate their safe crossing from the USA.
We went for walks to explore Green Turtle Cay and found a bar for sundowners, beaches where you can feed the turtles and (small) nurse sharks.
We took the dinghy into the mangroves and deserted bays to find more rays and turtles and we fed the swimming pigs on No Name Cay.
Apart from the masses of ‘no see ems’ bites that we got when ashore on what looked like an idyllic beach for a sundowner, Green Turtle Cay was Lesley’s favourite place in the Abacos. A useful local website for information is https://littlehousebytheferry.com/2017/08/07/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-swimming-pigs-of-abaco/
We also managed to meet up with long term cruisers and Lesley’s ex work colleague on their catamaran Juffa which was very exciting after such a long time!
Unfortunately we had a problem with our water maker. The vane pump that pumps the sea water went bang. Everyone was very helpful and was happy to supply us with water when we needed it but we try to be self sufficient. We have not filled our water tanks from a land source for over 5 years and didn’t really want to start buying or borrowing water now. Also it is unlikely that we would find a marina with a service dock that had a deep enough berth for Ocean Blue. Luckily we keep our tanks pretty full so time was on our side to get it fixed.
Green Turtle Cay also has good free WiFi so we were able to research and purchase the required repair kit and get it sent to the next Island we were sailing to. This meant a faster sail through the southern Abacos to get to Governor Harbour in Eleuthera. The passes out through the reefs can be treacherous and our boat is too deep to take the inner route to the South Abacos, but luckily the wind died a bit so we were able to make the trip through Whale passage and after a night catching up with friends we said our farewells and sailed into the South Abaco area. We had planned to visit Marsh Harbour but in the end spent one night in Crossing Bay before sailing on to put ourselves in the best spot for leaving the next morning.
A quick conversation with friends had suggested a difference between the different electronic charts that we have been using and the preferred ones for the area. Comparing the two, whilst the suggested routes were the same in most places, the depths varied by as much as a metre, which when the depth is often only 2-3 metres is huge. Needless to say we now have both charts!
We did stop for lunch off Dickies Cay, just outside Man-O-War Cay and went ashore to explore the area that had a strong boat building tradition. We saw a huge spotted eagle ray from the dinghy.
We planned and timed our passage between the winding, shallow Pepper Cay and Witch Point for as close to high tide as we could manage with enough light before the setting sun to see the shallows! Success and confidence in our new charts got us to Tiloo Pond anchorage for the night. We set the alarm for a 05:30 wake up for the next days sail to Eleuthera.