We arrived to Long Island before the last cold front hit so we could meet up with our friends Sean and Shannon, who were flying in on February 29th. The local hangout for the cruisers at Salt Pond is The Long Island Breeze, and the name sums up the last 10 days perfectly…
Our good friends (and avid blog followers) Sean and Shannon signed up for the live blog feed to start on the afternoon of February 29th and we were greatly looking forward to their visit. After some difficulties with air travel (that started when their first flight from Philadelphia was cancelled) I was overjoyed when I saw them arrive at Deadman’s Cay airport on a different airline, but almost at the same time as their original flight. We stayed on JV the first night, enjoyed some mahi tacos, and caught up.
Thursday – March 1st – Big Blue Hole
Long Island is a difficult island to explore entirely by boat. The western shore is very shallow, and the eastern shore is exposed directly to the Atlantic. On the west side, the southern half of the island is too shallow to explore by boat, but it is famous for its bonefishing. Most people opt to rent a car to see the island, and since we had to wait for winds to settle before leaving anyway, that’s what we did. We remembered to keep it on the left-hand side of the road. Fortunately, most of the traffic on Long Island comes from goats, and we were able to avoid them as well.
Thursday, we traveled to Dean’s Blue Hole, the largest blue hole in the world and host to the world free-diving championship. We each took a plunge from the cliffs into the deep blue before leaving to tour some of the settlements along Long Island. We checked out Clarence Town on the Southeast side of the island and toured the two twin churches that are the landmark of the small settlement. We stopped at Max’s Conch Bar for lunch (fantastic), and then headed for the Columbus Monument on the north end of the island. Finally, we wrapped up the day with a rake n’ scrape at a bar about 20 miles up the road from where the boat was anchored.
The Columbus Monument was well worth the effort we put in to get there. You have to follow a very rough road for a couple of miles in a tiny rental car, but the view from the monument was spectacular. Not to mention the many beaches and bays that you pass and can explore along the way.
Friday – March 2nd – Jumentos Bound / Water Cay
The winds were right on Friday, and we hauled the anchor to head to the Jumentos, a series of small islands to the south of Long Island that is primarily used as the route to cruise to Cuba. These islands are known for their desolation, remoteness, and beauty. The guidebook says that this is a true opportunity to enjoy the Bahamas without the crowds and to experience the peacefulness of a true tropical wilderness. After reading the guidebook, it was no surprise that after a fantastic 45 mile sail we dropped the anchor near Water Cay, a three-mile long island that had 6 other boats already there…. Apparently everyone decided to seek privacy and peacefulness in the same exact place.
We headed to shore in the dinghy to explore this small barrier island, and I can see the attraction. The water is clear, the islands are undeveloped, and there’s no sign of man. Unfortunately, while the Jumentos and the farther south Ragged Islands might have once been a place to escape and enjoy cruising without seeing another boat for days, as often happens, it is now populated by boaters that have heard it’s the “cool” place to go. I’m still looking for what Jimmy Buffett calls his “One Particular Harbor,” and when we find it, I won’t be telling anyone else where it is!
Saturday – March 3rd – Water Cay
An early attempt to move south to Flamingo Cay was thwarted by wind and waves. We’d been hearing ominous radio forecasts of a front bringing strong winds to cover all the Bahamas starting on Monday morning. We needed to ensure we could make it back to Long Island before the front so Sean and Shannon could fly out on Tuesday. Due to the winds, wherever the boat is when the front hits will likely determine where it rests for the next week. Therefore we can’t keep continue cruising south to the Ragged Islands and we decide to spend one more night at Water Cay before heading back to the safety of Long Island.
The guide book was right about one thing, local fishermen clean their catch at Water Cay and toss the carcasses into the water. Sharks have learned this and swim up to boats when they arrive. We didn’t notice it the first night, but the second day after we dropped the anchor again I could see small sharks circling under our boat. Sabrina and Shannon stuck their heads in the water to check out the sharks and reported that they were small guys, Sabrina was even able to snap a photo.
Shortly thereafter we did the only logical thing and went snorkeling. Sean got a chance to shoot a few lionfish off a nearby rocky area, and we searched for dinner. After exploring several rocky areas and some nearby coral, Sabrina and Shannon were cold so we headed back to the boat. After a quick lunch Sean and I ventured back out to try to find some more coral and hopefully dinner. After several quick trips where we were fighting a raging current, we got smart. We jumped out of the dinghy up-current of some awesome coral features and we both held on to the sides with our spears in our hand. It was like riding a Range Rover on safari, we’d take turns leaving the dinghy to look for things to shoot as we occasionally gave a couple of fin strokes to direct our drift in the direction we wanted to go. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful with finding dinner, but we had a blast on our drifting snorkel trip and we saw a ton of cool things.
Sunday – March 4th – Sailing Back
We got an early start because I thought the winds would be dying down throughout the day and we’d have to motor, but luckily we were able to sail the entire way back to Thompson Bay. It was a relaxing downwind sail, and we were amazed at the number of boats moving to Long Island at the same time, everyone had heard the same weather reports.
When we arrived at Thompson Bay, the boat count was over 50, we dropped the hook far away from any neighbors and enjoyed an eerily calm evening on the boat. It truly was the calm before the storm as a wall of wind hit us at about 4:00 am. The anchor held, we went back to sleep, and waited for sunrise.
Monday – March 5th – Thompson Bay
After deploying a second anchor, the overcast day lent itself nicely to another car rental for the four of us to stretch our legs. During our dinghy ride to shore in 20-25 knot winds the outboard suddenly died and Sean and I frantically rowed back to the boat, luckily we had ventured almost due upwind, so we drifted back in the general direction of the boat. (If we would have missed getting back to JV on the downwind drift, I would probably be making this blog post from somewhere in Cuba, we couldn’t row upwind.)
A quick carburetor cleaning and removal of some water allowed us to get back underway. We rented a car, headed back to Max’s Conch Bar for more conch salad, and spent a lazy day exploring things we’d missed during our first trip on the island, including the ruins of the oldest church on the island, built in the 17th century.
Tuesday – March 6th – Departure
Sean and Shannon had a flight to catch at noon, the wind was blowing sustained at 25 knots and gusting to 30, and we had to get to the beach to get to the rental car to get to the airport. This was going to be fun.
We broke up into two landing parties, I would run Sean into the beach with the luggage and then come back for Sabrina and Shannon. As Sean and I departed, spray crashed over our heads as we took the heavy dinghy straight into the waves. We quickly hit the beach, Sean changed into a dry set of clothes, and I returned for the ladies. The second trip went better without the luggage in the bow and the ladies weren’t quite as waterlogged as the gentlemen.
We headed straight for Deadman’s Cay airport where Sean and Shannon received their boarding passes and the plane departed on time. We were very happy that they were able to visit us and experience some of the islands of the Bahamas. The weather helped to make the goodbyes easier, the overcast gray skies and strong winds weren’t going to be fun for the next couple of days.
Wednesday – March 7th – East Winds
Armed with new books loaded onto our Kindles, Sabrina and I set about waiting out the winds. This is a very difficult process where we try to do nothing except drink coffee and read books while doing as little as possible on the boat. As far as I could tell, nothing has blown away off the decks, so I think we’re doing well. The highest gust I registered on the wind meter was 32 knots.
Thursday – March 8th – Still Blowing
The winds are still blowing, but the sun has come out. Other than that, things are pretty much the same. Some cruisers said that they’d be taking musical instruments to the Long Island Breeze this afternoon and that coaxed us out of our self-inflicted Kindle exile. We made the dinghy trip into the breeze with the computer in a couple waterproof bags and powered up the wifi for the first time in over a week.
We don’t know where we’ll go from here. Tthe swells on the ocean are immense and will continue long after the wind has died down. Another cold front will be sweeping through this weekend, strengthening the winds that are supposed to decrease briefly tomorrow. One of our jobs here at the Breeze this afternoon will be to discuss ideas with other cruisers on where to go from here.
It was great to have Sean and Shannon visit and spend some time cruising with our friends. We’re very glad that as luck would have it they flew in last week before the blow started and we had some time to do some sailing. If they had arrived this week we would have been trapped in the boat and we’d have to sort out the official rules to Mexican Train dominoes!