As we flew over West End on our route from Palm Beach to Marsh Harbour, I thought about our Thanksgiving passage through the seas below. Winds had been blowing for a week at 25 plus knots. With a new front coming through we caught the only day with west winds. The seas were steep at 5 to 8 feet, more than I like, and on our stern leaving Lake Worth Inlet. As we approached the Bank, the wind had clocked to our port stern quarter, picked up to 30 knots and the waves had increased in height. What I remember was the uneasy feeling that we were going to roll down face of the biggest waves. Tracking at about 45º to the direction of the waves, the steeper ones would lift our stern twisting the boat 45-percent further so when we set on top of the wave our bow was at 90º and our beam was facing the direction of the wave, allowing us to look out our pilot house window down two stories to the wave’s trough. The waves were traveling at about 28mph. At 9 knots we were traveling at about one third of this speed. Before we could roll down the face, the waves had passed underneath leaving us on the less steep backside, which allowed the helm to correct to our 45º-course to the wave’s direction.
We entered Little Bahama Bank at White Sand Ridge; the two other entry points to the south are tricky even in calm weather. Inside the Bank we turned southeast on a course to go around the southern end of Sale Cay where we dropped anchor on the lea side for the night. Inside the Bank the seas, now on our stern again, moderated from 3 to 4 feet. With the shallow water on the Bank, 8 to 12 feet in the area we were traveling, the speed of the waves was just above our speed over ground, allowing us a short surf on each face. This added about a knot to our speed. We dropped anchor at about 9:00pm without a moon.
We woke the next morning pitching in 2 to 3-foot seas as the wind had continued to clock and we were no longer in the lea. We cleared customs that afternoon at Green Turtle Cay where we spent the next two days anchored in White Sound waiting for the seas to subside so we could get around Whale Cay. At Whale Cay you have to go back out in the Atlantic off the Bank and over a reef, and then back onto the Bank on the south side of the Cay. The opening at the north side of the Cay is susceptible to rage conditions particularly with northeast winds, which were blowing at the time of our passage. We finally ran out of time and although the seas had subsided some, we still experienced short period of 8 to 10-foot cresting waves on our nose, as we crossed the reef. Our boat will take a lot but I much prefer a trip where the clock is set on weather.
Fifteen out of our family gathering of sixteen had mustered from both Coasts at the West Palm Beach Airport. Our trip to Marsh Harbour, where we had staged our boat, would be aboard a Bahamasair de Havilland turboprop plane. As we took off, the stewardess, dressed in a crisp gold and white uniform, told us that the crew not only flew to the Bahamas, they were from the Bahamas. I would understand this significance later that evening.
On arrival we split up with the girls headed for the local supermarket to provision and the guys with me to get the boat ready for our weeklong reunion. It is amazing what a few extra hands can do. Fortunately everyone in the party had some boating experience. We had the canvas off, cords stored, engines “pre-flighted” and ready to cast off long before the girls had figured out what to eat. We had a tight schedule to get into Hope Town Harbour on Elbow Cay before the tide lowered below our 5-foot draft. We made it to our dock in front of Hope Town Marina and Inn with about a foot to clear.
Half of our party would be staying in the Dockside Inn. Our four grandkids, and our son and his wife stayed with us on the boat. While eating dinner at the open-air bar at the Inn’s pool our 16th guest arrived with a story about her delay and the boat ride she had hitched from Marsh Harbour. She had landed on a United flight in Marsh Harbour shortly after we had. The passengers were told they all had to fly back to Orlando without getting off the plane. One stewardess, who was not from the Bahamas, had forgotten her passport (I now understood). By now the band was playing and we all danced barefoot on the sand in a conga line led by Jackie Tar, our miniature golden doodle who was traveling with us.
The next morning we had breakfast onboard and departed for the beach at the south end of Elbow Cay. We anchored just north of the sand spit at the very south end of the Cay in 8-foot water, and rode dinghies and kayaks ashore. On the beach we lay in the sun, and swam and snorkeled in the 80º-water.
Back in Hope Town, we had one of several great dinners we would have aboard during the week. The Inn arranged a birthday cake for two birthdays we celebrated during the week. On the third night we all dressed up and had a special dinner at the Harbour Town Lodge on a hill across the Harbour from our dock.
Our daily routine was planned to give all our guests a taste of the cruising life. During the week we visited Little Harbour, had lunch at Pete’s Place, visited his bronze sculpture gallery and explored the caves at the end of the harbor. We snorkeled off the Baker’s Bay at the north end of Guana Cay, made a trip to the Nipper’s Bar and Grill where we had conch burgers overlooking a fantastic beach, and toured Man-O-War Cay. The great part about the southern Abacos is once you are in the Sea of Abacos, you can venture to a number of barrier island destinations in relative comfort, even with 20 plus winds. We did have one front come through with spotty rain on one day, but that didn’t stop our enthusiasm for adventure.
Our trip ran over New Years, which is celebrated with style in Hope Town. At 2pm on New Years Eve afternoon they have a children’s Junkanoo parade. This is followed at 12:01am New Years morning with 20 minutes of great fire works. Docked in the front of the Hope Town Marina and Inn, with the fire works across the Harbour, we had a perfect view from our aft deck. Following the fireworks those most hearty in our crew tendered across the Harbour to Town for the adult Junkanoo. Slaves started this festival during the 16th and 17th centuries. Many Junkanoo participants spend most of the year planning and making the costumes for this cultural tradition. What a great way to greet the New Year.
After sleeping in on New Years morning, we climbed the last operational kerosene fueled lighthouse in the world, a few steps from our dock. We then explored Elbow Cay in a convoy of golf carts, stopping to search for shells at low tide, and a great lunch at the Sea Spray Marina dockside restaurant.
Our plan had been to host a fun filled week for the full range of ages from 6 to 88 who were part of our four-generation reunion. Beyond our goal of giving our guests a taste of the cruising life, was our hope of enticing at least one convert, so we can go on their boat when we get too old to operate our own. Time will tell.