Thursday, February 25, 2021

Spanish Wells, Devil's Backbone, Current Cut and Glass Bridge (Part 2)

Late yesterday morning we weighed anchor outside Spanish Wells and headed south to make our way to the inside of the Eleuthera bight. We timed our departure to arrive at Current Cut close to slack current.

Current Cut is a very narrow gap between North Eleuthera Island and Current Island that leads into the a crescent of calm shallow water formed by North and South Eleuthera Islands. The current through Current Cut can flow as fast as 10 knots and when it is flowing fast, creates eddies that can make staying in the channel and navigating between reefs difficult. We arrived only about an hour earlier than the time reported for slack (zero) current and the water was still flowing against us at around two knots. It was an uneventful passage through the cut and along shallows displaying a palette of beautiful colors- aquamarine, turquoise,waters, yellow-creamy sand.

After clearing the cut, we motored against light headwinds directly to Glass Bridge and anchored off Twin Sisters Beach. We landed the dinghy on the beach and walked up the Queen's Highway to the bridge.

Glass Bridge (made of concrete, not glass) connects North Eleuthera to South Eluethera across a dramatic gap in tall limestone cliffs that connects the deep Atlantic Ocean to the shallow Eluethera bight. On one side of the bridge, deep blue, powerful, surging seas. On the other, flat, calm, light green shall water. Even though the Atlantic was pretty calm, the swells rushed into the gap, crashed against the limestone and threw up spumes of white water. When the ocean is rough, I'm sure the action would be even more violent, all while the water on the other side rests peacefully.

We walked back to the dinghy, had a swim and then returned to Intermezzo for dinner and listening to music under a nearly full moon that lit up the sandy bottom below the boat to a soft opalescent white glow.

This morning, Amy and Robin went kayaking while I wrote Part 1 of this blog post and then went to the beach to read. After lunch we all crossed the highway to visit the Queen's Baths, a series of pools, channels and open caves in the limestone formed by the sea. Very interesting and scenic.

It rained this afternoon, though we could barely tell from what cloud, the sun shining so brightly and forming a double rainbow for a short spell. We waded and snorkeled in the crystal clear water along the shoreline, seeing lots of starfish, schools of minnows, sea cucumbers and some tiny coral formations.

I made a first-time original dinner today- grilled swordfish marinated in ponzu/ginger/garlic/sesame oil, quinoa cooked in lobster broth and a wasabi/fish sauce cole slaw. A winner. We eat well on Intermezzo.

Tomorrow we venture further south along the west shore of Eleuthera.

Expanse of Eleuthera's crystal clear water on the way to Current Cut

Intermezzo anchored off Twin Sisters Beach

Glass Bridge, looking from the surging Atlantic to the calm Eleuthera bight

View of the Atlantic from the limestone cliffs at Glass Bridge

Bench pressing rock at the Queen's Baths

The Queen's Baths

Spanish Wells, Devil's Backbone, Current Cut and Glass Bridge (Part 1)

Monday, February 22, I celebrated my 60th birthday at sea. The right place for me this year.

I had been feeling a low-key dread leading up to this chronological milestone, really not wanting to turn 60, not wanting to mark off another year. Though it's uncertain how many marks remain to be cashed in, for sure the account balance is decreasing.

Yet when the day came, all I really felt while floating on my beloved sea, under the grand expanse of blue sky, was gratitude. Grateful for my healthy body, grateful for my freedom, grateful for my good fortune, grateful to all those who care for me, who support me, who love me.

The cold front for which we had hunkered down in Royal Island Harbor had passed. The strong, blustery winds from the northeast had shifted to the east, still blowing in the teens, but a steady stable breeze rather than a stormy blow.

We motored against these winds for a few miles to anchor off the entrance to the harbor of Spanish Wells. It was a wet dinghy ride to the harbor entrance through steep chop, the wind blowing soaking spray onto us. We were pretty much wet through by the time we tied up at the dock of a waterfront grocery story in the harbor.

We walked around Spanish Wells, an old, established town of modest houses, most looking to have been built in the 60's, 70's, 80's. Many of the houses are of masonry construction, short, squat, with small windows, architecture that isn't beautiful but survives hurricanes. The choice of bright colors for exterior paint cheers them up a lot.

My mom had sent me an email wishing me a happy birthday and hoping that "Perhaps you will find a goat on some island to enhance your day."  That may sound odd to you, but anyone who knows me well knows my affinity to those creatures, cultivated through a long friendship with my daughter's goats, Lola and Daphne.  I didn't think there was much chance of my mom's hope to materialize, but, lo-and-behold, as I was walking along in Spanish Wells, what did I see? A small herd of a half-dozen somewhat friendly goats. I spoke to them for a little while, fed them some fresh weeds and found one that enjoyed being pet. What a surprise birthday present that my Mom wished into being.

I treated myself to birthday Klondike ice cream bar in the aftenoon, deliciously creamy and cold in the hot sun, my first ice cream in a long time. I made a big Thai green curry for dinner, accompanied by a nice bottle of Amarone. The crew baked me a small chocolate cake, complete with a couple of candles to cap off my humble but satisfying birthday celebration.

We moved Intermezzo to the west side of Meeks Patch, a small islet just south of Spanish Wells to get some protection from the easterly wind.  Nature decided to play with us, however, shifting the wind and swells to the west during the night. Not only were we exposed to a long fetch of waves that rocked Intermezzo, these waves reflected off the hard limestone shore of the islet to combine with the direct waves to rock and roll the boat violently at times. It wakes you up.

The next day we set off in the dinghy to navigate the ominous-sounding Devil's Backbone to visit a cave and a blue hole on land.  The Devil's Backbone passage winds through reefs and coral heads along the north coast of Eleuthera. The cruising guide describes it as "an exercise in coastal navigation that should not be undertaken lightly." Having a local pilot on board is mandatory for larger vessels. I decided that it was safe to eyeball my way through the waters in the shallow draft dinghy, as long as I did so carefully and didn't go too fast.

We moved Intermezzo back to the harbor entrance as the staging point for our dinghy adventure. Fortunately the wind had died down and was coming from the southwest, so it was a dry ride into the harbor this time. We motored slowly through the harbor and then out into the channel that runs run north between St. George Cay, on which Spanish Wells sits, and the main North Eleuthera Island. We rounded Ridley Head at the northwest corner of Eleuthera and headed east into the backbone.

It was pretty easy to spot the reefs and coral heads underwater, as their dark brown-blue-green color contrasts markedly with the deep blue and light green of the safe water. The sea breaks over the shallowest reefs and heads, only an idiot would try to cross those.

I steered a serpentine course between hazards, stopping frequently to check the Navionics charts on my iPhone. I like the Navionics charts because they allow users to upload sonar logs recorded by their chartplotters which are then assembled by Navionics to produce highly detailed crowd-sourced bathymetry. This data not only provides more detail of bottom conditions, it also maps out the frequently traveled safe channels simply by the density of data captured from vessels that "survived" their passages. 

I also admit to a form of nautical plagiarism: I watched the routes taken by the pilot boats and copied them.  So I can't take full credit for getting us safely to the beach at Preacher's Cave. I can't even take credit for landing the dinghy on the beach exactly in front to the trail leading to the cave. That was complete luck; I just chose what looked like the calmest zone in the light surf for our landing.

Preacher's Cave is a large open-faced limestone cavern where the "Eleutheran Adventurers", a cohort of puritans escaping religious persecution in Bermuda in the 1600's, took refuge after being shipwrecked. On the Devil's Backbone. Make of that what you will.

The cave is roomy, with natural chimneys, limestone tubes extending through the roof of the cave to daylight above. A decent place to take refuge. I wonder if William Sayle, the leader of the adventurers, was lucky like I was, picking the same spot in the calmer surf to land his party on the beach and blundering upon the cave right in front of him?

After wandering around the cave for bit, we hiked to the main road, the Queen's Highway, and headed west for a stretch to the Sapphire Blue Hole, a deep circular limestone pool connected to the ocean. Robin led the way down the steep side of the hole to plunge into its azure water, white rays of light reflecting off the bottom in a radiating pattern, as if there was a cut jewel sitting on the bottom. Very beautiful and a refreshing swim, followed by a hard climb 30 feet up the vertical side of the hole, with the assistance of a knotted rope, hand- and foot-holds in the limestone.

We wrapped up our adventure on the Devil's Backbone by anchoring the dinghy off a coral head and snorkeling around it, lots of nice coral, colorful fish and the impressive structure of the bommie itself, a column of coral rising vertically 30 feet from the sandy ocean bottom.

I navigated back through the backbone by memory, with a bit of guidance from a couple of passing pilot boats and we clambered back on board Intermezzo un-shipwrecked, for cold beers, hot showers and dinner.

Nature seemed to apologize for misbehaving the night before, as the sea was flat calm during the night. So calm at times that it was as if Intermezzo was sitting on the hard on land.

I'll continue soon with Part 2 of this post, covering our passage from Spanish Wells to Glass Bridge through Current Cut.

Light reflecting from "the jewel" at the bottom of Sapphire Blue Hole
House in Spanish Wells

Sand waves, St. George's Cay

One of my Birthday Goats

My Birthday Ice Cream


Preacher's Cave

Sapphire Blue Hole

Easy getting in, if you jump. Not so easy getting out.

Swimming in the sapphire water

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Royal Island, Addendum

I realized this morning that in my previous blog post covering our passage to Royal Island, I stressed how important it was for us to sail fast due to limited daylight hours, but failed to report on how fast we sailed.

We departed Lynyard Cay at 0631 and arrived at Royal Island Harbor at approximately 1600, 9.5 hours sailing time. We sailed 61 nautical miles, for an average speed of 6.4 knots. That's quite respectable for Intermezzo, heavy with gear and with the main conservatively reefed down. We motored for a total of 2.5 hours, about half of that time just to get safely through Little Harbor Cut in rough waves and about half to maintain 6 knots boat speed when the wind petered out.

The other thing I noticed this morning is how different the islands look here compared to The Abacos. There are leaves on the trees! Hurricane Dorian knocked down most of the big trees and stripped the leaves off the ones left standing, so the landscape there is typically pretty scraggly and brown. Eleuthera was spared most of Dorian's wrath and the trees onshore are lush and green. I hope the foilage recovers soon in The Abacos so that natural beauty is restored as the man-made environment is rebuilt.

We've been hunkered down here as the wind howls in the solid 20's from the northeast. We got up later than usual and I made omelette's for the crew this morning. Later Amy polished all the interior woodwork while Robin cleaned the salon upholstery. I'm grateful for all their efforts to keep Intermezzo tidy and clean.

Might be off to Spanish Wells tomorrow if the wind cooperates.

Looking out the entrance to Royal Island Harbor on a blustery cold front day

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Royal Island Harbor, Nice Downwind Sail

Intermezzo is anchored in snug little Royal Island Harbor, a lagoon within Royal Island, a small island at the northwest end of the Eleuthera archipelago. The wind is blowing strong from the northeast and is supposed to get even stronger tomorrow. We'll sit here at anchor and let this cold front pass through.

We were up before dawn this morning as we had over 60 nautical miles to cover and only about 11 hours of daylight. It was raining pretty hard as we prepared the boat to weigh anchor, had coffee and checked the weather forecast. The wind had clocked from the south to the north overnight as the predicted cold front approached and were blowing about 10 knots. Winds were forecast to increase steadily through the day, just what we needed to keep the boat moving fast.

As soon as it was light enough to navigate out of the small cove on Lynyard Cay in which we had anchored, we motored carefully through shallow waters towards Little Harbor Cut, the southernmost pass from the Sea of Abaco into the Atlantic Ocean. We raised sails in heavy rain and then proceeded out the cut, motoring through steep waves with breakers crashing on the reefs on either side of the channel. It was a bumpy half mile or so and then seas smoothed out, but were still confused and lumpy as we switched off the motors and started sailing.

In an abundance of caution, I had put two reefs in the mainsail in case the winds were blowing stronger on the ocean. The weren't, so we shook out a reef and got the boat moving along on nearly a run at our minimum target boats speed of six knots, the sails wing-on-wing.

The rain stopped, the skies brightened a bit and a small pod of dolphins came to swim alongside us, much to Amy and Robin's delight. The swells also become more regular, smoothing out the ride but unfortunately the wind decreased and we had to turn on an engine to keep boat speed up for a couple of hours.

Around noon, the winds started piping up again, we shutdown the engine and were soon romping along at 6-7 knots, surfing down waves in the high eight's. Amy recovered enough from feeling seasick to try hand steering on a broad reach with following seas. She's got a natural talent and her wake was straight as an arrow for almost two hours.  The autopilot doesn't steer that well. I'm not sure I do, either. It helped with her seasickness but didn't cure it.

As we drew closer to our arrival waypoint located well off the reef bordering Egg Island, the wind started gusting close to 25 knots so Robin and I put the second reef back in the main sail. I have honed my technique of reefing downwind, avoiding the unpleasantness of turning upwind and crashing over waves to reef.  I call it "inchworming" the reef...lower the halyard a little, crank in the reefing line a little, lower the halyard, crank the reefing line...little by little the sail is lowered to be able to clip in the reefing cringle at the tack. There are a few details to pay attention to, but it seems to be a reliable reefing technique.

When we reached our waypoint, we furled the jib and turned upwind to lower the mainsail. The wind was blowing a solid 25 knots and there was a pretty steep chop in the shallow waters behind Egg and Royal Islands. We motored along bashing through the waves which diminished as we drew closer to the lee of the islands.

The entrance into Royal Island Harbor is through a narrow channel between a point of land and a big rock. There are a half dozen boats sharing the anchorage with us, all taking shelter from the howling wind. 

Tomorrow will be a lazy day of waiting out the front, peppered with some boat chores and figuring out where we will go when the weather improves.


Friday, February 19, 2021

Lynyard Cay, via Hope Town, Onward to Eleuthera

We left the devastation of Marsh Harbor on Wednesday morning and motored seven miles across the Sea of Abaco to Hope Town on Elbow Cay, dropping anchor in a protected cove in shallow water right near the entrance to the cay's inner harbor.

Hope Town and Elbow Cay are more tidy and somewhat more upscale than Green Turtle or Man O' War Cays. They may have suffered less hurricane damage and certainly have repaired and rebuilt more quickly, I expect due to more money available. The streets of the small village of Hope Town are tidy, with colorfully painted small houses lining them. Very pretty, very pleasant.

I baked my first loaf of boat bread, a "no knead" recipe from a boating magazine. Version 1.0 turned out pretty well- a bit too salty and it stuck to the pot I baked it in. I was suspicious that the recipe called for an ungreased pan and it turned out I had good reason to be. Nonetheless, the captain and crew devoured the loaf quickly. Version 2.0 will have less salt, a greased pan and a slightly lower baking temperature.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I've been struggling with getting enough energy from the sun to charge the batteries. I attributed this to the prevailing southerly winds causing the panels to be shaded by the mast and boom for much of the day. When we arrived at Hope Town I thought maybe by hauling the boom over the port side of the boat I could catch more of the afternoon sun. After I shifted the boom, I went down below to look at the solar charger displays to see if it had any effect. To my dismay, one of the chargers was showing zero watts of solar power coming from the starboard panel, which was completely un-shaded. No wonder we have been so short of solar power.

I checked the input from the starboard solar panel and found a healthy voltage. I tried resetting its charger with no effect. We have two chargers, one for each panel and they are supposed to communicate with each other to synchronize battery charging modes and voltages. I've had trouble with this synchronization feature before and I understand that the charger firmware has been updated to correct this problem. However, I need a Windows computer to upgrade the firmware, only have a Mac on board and haven't got around to doing it yet. I've always solved the problem in the past by simply resetting the misbehaving charger. But not this time.

I scratched my head for a few minutes and then realized I could just disconnect the communication cable between the two charges so that they could act independently of each other and bypass the synchronization problem. Sure enough, I unplugged the cable and the starboard panel went from sending zero to sending 180 watts to the batteries. The shading, winter sun angle and shorter daylight hours are still limiting, but we're back to a more normal charging regimen now on Intermezzo, burning less fossil fuel and not having to listen to the hum of the portable generator at anchor.

Wednesday evening we hitched a ride to the upscale Firefly Sunset Resort to, the sunset. And have rum drinks. We met a couple, John and Susan from Memphis who have been spending time in the Abacos for many years and are house hunting for a vacation home. We ended up having dinner with them at the resort...good food, good conversation, s-l-o-w service.

The next day we had a relaxing morning on the boat and then went to shore to walk along the Atlantic beach. We stopped for lunch and a bottle of wine at On Da Beach, a restaurant bar, um...on the beach. I ventured out into the surf for a swim while Robin waded and Amy explored the shoreline.

Today we motored, against the wind and seas again, about 12 nautical miles (nm) to Lynyard Cay, the staging anchorage for our passage tomorrow south to Eleuthera. We're anchored in a pretty cove with a white and beach and turquoise waters. We spent the afternoon snorkeling the shallow waters near the boat.

A cold front is approaching and by morning the winds are forecast to be blowing from the north. We'll weigh anchor at dawn and then head into the ocean through Little Harbor Pass, a few miles south of here. We have to sail fast this time to cover the 55 nm to arrive at our anchorage at Royal Island during daylight. The northerly winds are forecast to build as we sail, getting up into the 20's towards the end of our passage. I expect it will be an energetic downwind sleigh ride, though the front will bring clouds and rain as well as the favorable winds. The northerly is supposed to blow hard through Sunday, so after we get to Royal, we'll be hanging tight until the front has passed through.

Hope Town, Elbow Cay

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Manjack Cay, Man O' War Cay, Marsh Harbor

Here's a catch up on our past five days of cruising the Abacos.

We left White Sound and Green Turtle Cay on Friday morning an motored a few miles north to drop anchor off of Manjack (or Nunjack) Cay, an undeveloped and mostly uninhabited islet with a large anchorage that affords good protection from easterly and southerly winds. We inflated the kayaks and did some exploring of the shallow shoreline waters and a mangrove estuary that extends into the center of the island. After lunch, Bill picked us up on his boat and took us to what he calls "Sting Ray Bay" a cove at the north end of the island. We enjoyed swimming, walking along the beach and drinking "wine cocktails", cheap white wine spiked with Stolichnaya. A fun, relaxing afternoon.

Saturday we took landed the dinghy on a beach to hike across the island to the Atlantic side. The island is owned by a couple, Bill and Leslie, two retired sea captains who have lived there for over 25 years. They built a nice rustic home and planted gardens for fresh produce and vegetables, some of which they grow hydroponically in a simple but effective array of interconnected PVC pipes with sockets for plastic cups that serve as containers for the plant. They are very friendly and generous to allow visitors to roam around their island homestead.

The trail across the island took us through low, dense forest and then opened up to a white sand beach and turquoise water. We walked from one end to the other, taking a break for a light lunch midway. The sun was bright, the air warm and the scenery was spectacular.

Sunday morning we weighed anchor and set out for Man O' War Cay, about 27 nautical miles (nm) south. It was a bash, motoring into 20-plus knot headwinds and steep choppy seas. The waters on the inside of the Abacos cays and reef gets too shallow to pass about 4 nm south of Green Turtle Cay, so we had to make our way through the narrow Whale Cay Cut ("The Whale") out into the ocean, sail on the outside a few miles and then re-enter the protected inside waters through a ship channel. With southerly winds blowing, the sea conditions through The Whale were just a bit choppy. I could see how a strong northerly and ocean swells could turn the cut very nasty though, the rapid shallowing of water and reefs resulting in big breaking waves. When such conditions occur, it is called a "rage". You don't go through a cut during a rage.

To get into the harbor at Man O' War Cay, I had to pilot Intermezzo through one of the narrowest entrances I've ever negotiated. I had just ten feet on either side between gunwales and the rocks and only 2 feet of water under the keels. The wind was blowing over 20 knots, the chart noted "sand bars" and it was low tide. I made it.

As we made our way into the harbor, we saw wrecked boats washed up on one shore and torn up piers and wharves on the other, all casualties of Hurricane Dorian. From the water, it looked dismal.

We took a mooring ball in the center of the harbor and ventured on to shore. While there was a lot of damage along the waterfront, things weren't so bad on the interior of the cay along its narrow golf cart streets. Lots of repair and rebuilding has been completed or is underway, though there is still much to do. I  got the sense that the cay is about 50 percent towards to its pre-hurricane condition.

Monday we walked around the island, found a bakery and bought fresh-baked bread and cinnamon rolls and took in a bit of the island's history, in which boat building played a large part. I'll cover this in a separate post.

Today we crossed over to Marsh Harbor on Great Abaco Island, a big, roughly crescent-shaped island about 70 miles long that locals refer to as "the mainland". Marsh Harbor is the main commercial hub of the Abacos. It has "everything", including a well-connected airport. Or rather, it had everything. The hurricane destroyed every marina in the harbor, every shorefront structure and almost all the retail infrastructure. We took the dinghy to shore to re-provision at the big Maxwell's Supermarket and getting there was like walking through a war zone. Total devastation. It was so bad, that I didn't feel like taking pictures. Work is being done to rebuild, at the current rate of work, I figure it will take a decade or more to return to pre-hurricane conditions. I'd estimate only 10% progress has been made. I wonder where the money will come from to rebuild. It doesn't seem to be flowing here very quickly.

Despite the physical devastation, the people seem to be in decent spirits, carrying on, making do, getting by. I'm sure times are really tough for most of them, but I see lots of smiles, hear lots of happy greetings, people are friendly and quick to give a wave or say "hello".  I wish them the best and hope the rebuilding happens more quickly than I think it will happen.

Tomorrow we head over to Hope Town.  A cold front with northerly winds is forecast for the weekend. We'll use it to make our way further south to Eleuthra, an open ocean passage.

Rainbow over White Sound, Green Turtle Cay


Robin and Amy hiking the cross-island trail on Manjack Cay



Beautiful color scheme, Manjack Cay (Atlantic side)



Hurricane wreck on Man O' War Cay

Atlantic beach, Man O' War Cay

British Seagull outboard engine in museum on Man O' War Cay. This is the first outboard I ever used. Does that make me old?


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Green Turtle Cay, Good Times

We have been thoroughly enjoying ourselves over the past couple of days, still anchored in White Sound on Green Turtle Cay. Lots of ups, just a couple downs.

I completed my water maker pump replacement early Tuesday afternoon, then started the port engine to test it and make some water. To my dismay, the engine was not charging the house batteries which run the water maker. Fixed one problem, discovered another. I started the other engine which provided the requisite electrons and decided to put aside the port engine charging problem until the following day.

As I headed into shore in the dinghy to meet up with Robin and Amy, I was intercepted by Bill in his center-console powerboat. I had met him briefly the day before and we had exchanged pleasantries. He asked me if we would like to go with him to nearby No Name Cay for lunch and a swim. I replied that I would check with my crew, but I'm sure we would enjoy that.

Crew was enthusiastic, so we boarded Bill's boat and sped over to No Name Cay, home to the Abaco's famous swimming pigs. Sure enough, a small drove of pigs was waiting for us expectantly on the beach. Brown-ish, hairy pigs who were more than ready to go swimming in return for a snack. We didn't have any food, so we just said "hello", gave them a few pats and they didn't need to get wet.

We enjoyed a nice lunch of conch fritters, grouper sandwich, peas and rice at the cay's one-and-only beach bar, Big O's. Then Bill took us to the southern tip of Green Turtle Cay (GTC) where we enjoyed a swim in just-warm-enough-to-be-pleasant water. Bill has been a regular visitor to GTC for over 25 years, normally accompanied by his wife, kids and grandchildren but vacationing solo this year due to the pandemic. He's a very nice, cheerful, intelligent, worldly man from Michigan, who really loves GTC and its people.

We returned to Intermezzo, rinsed off and enjoyed a relaxing evening after our afternoon's sunny outing. While half asleep during the night, I worked on the port engine charging problem. Another boat captain once called doing that as "being a good bunk mechanic." I realized that, if the alternator was not working, I should have seen a warning light on the engine control panel, which I didn't remember seeing. This was potentially encouraging, as if the alternator was working properly, the fix would be much easier than if it wasn't.

Wednesday morning after breakfast I switched on the port engine and, to my relief, no alternator warning light was lit. Furthermore, the alternator was sending plenty of amps to the starting battery, they just weren't getting to the house bank. I'm very familiar with Intermezzo's electrical system and knew there were only a few things that would cause this fault. The likely culprit was a solenoid which prevents the starting battery from being discharged by house loads. Sure enough, when I put my multimeter on the solenoid, it was not properly completing the charging circuit for the house batteries.

Fortunately, I had ordered components for a major upgrade to my engine charging system. I hadn't been able to do the upgrade as planned while in Hilton Head due to shipping delays, but I had all the pieces on board including two Automatic Charging Relays (ACR), which are an upgrade to the faulty solenoid. So, I ripped out the crappy solenoid, installed an ACR and was back in business, better than new. I was pleased with myself, not just for a successful repair, but for taking the time to do the troubleshooting mentally in advance, saving myself from messing for hours trying to figure out what was wrong with the alternator. I had learned my lesson from the faulty pressure switch on the water maker pump the day before.

After getting the charging problem sorted out, I headed to shore with my bike to explore the island. The Bahamas are a former British colony and cars drive on the left side of the road...important to remember as a bicyclist. In fact, The Bahamas are where many British loyalists went to flee the successful American Revolution. There is a sculpture garden in the main town here, New Plymouth, with a historic plaque summarizing the Loyalist history, culture and contributions to the islands, with numerous bronze busts of predominately white people, most of which were cast in the late 1940's, before the islands independence from Britain in 1973.

As I rode along cay's smooth scenic paved roads I admired how diligently the island's residents were rebuilding from the devastation of Hurricane Dorian. Typically, just a few men working steadily to rebuild a dock, a roof, a road, one bit at a time. It will be years before things are back the way that they were, but each day, it gets a little bit better.  Debris from the hurricane is hauled to a temporary dump, where dumpsters are filled each day and hauled away on a barge. Step-by-step, piece-by-piece, day-by-day; there is a steady, gentle determination to admire here.

I rode around the small town of New Plymouth and then headed to Gilliam Bay, a beautiful crescent of white sand beach and protected aquamarine waters. I enjoyed a nice solitary walk on the deserted beach before heading back to the boat.

We invited Bill to dine on Intermezzo last night and enjoyed a pleasant evening of good conversation, good food and decent wine.

This morning we took the dinghy to New Plymouth to get our required 5-day COVID antibody test. The small clinic in town is very efficient, friendly and the tests are free. We all "passed" with negative results. Now we are free to roam about the islands, although we have to complete a daily online health survey whenever we have internet access.

Bill took us to another of his favorite beaches this afternoon, called Lincoln Park. As soon as we were anchored, a large stingray came to greet the boat. These rays are very tame and friendly, regularly fed by visitors. I dropped into the water and the ray swam to me, caressing my legs with its soft, velvety wings. I felt bad not having any goodies to offer it. We explored the beach and protected cove for a bit and identified a potential place to anchor Intermezzo. As we walked through the shallow waters, several rays came up to say "hello" and see if we had any snacks. Between the pigs and stingrays, it seems like one should always pack appropriate treats in these parts.

All is well aboard Intermezzo, though we are struggling with solar power. The prevailing winter winds are southerly, which puts the solar panels at the stern of the boat facing north, in the shadows of the mast and boom. We're not keeping up with power consumption so we have to run the portable generator every couple of days. I hadn't appreciated the solar advantage of the Pacific coast until now, where the prevailing winds most of the year are from the north, which put the solar panels facing south to catch the sun. Winter's low sun angles and limited daylight hours make this difference quite significant in terms of generating power.

We'll leave White Sound tomorrow. Originally, I was planning on heading south to Man O' War Cay, but I think we'll anchor in one of the nearby bight just north and enjoy this beautiful spot for a day or two more. The weather is supposed to be quite good and settled.

I need to figure out what rays like to eat.

The famous swimming pigs of the Abacos at Big O's on No Name Cay

Biking the smooth roads of Green Turtle Cay

Debris from Hurricane Dorian, each day a few more loads taken away by barge for proper disposal

House in New Plymouth town

The memorial sculpture garden honoring the Loyalists and early settlers of The Abacos

Gilliam Bay at the southeast end of Green Turtle Cay

My sunrise/sunset shell

Monday, February 8, 2021

Green Turtle Cay

Yesterday we enjoyed a great sail from Little Sale Cay to Green Turtle Cay, romping along at 7-8 knots on a beam then close reach under reefed main and jib in 15-20 knot winds. The sky was clear, the sea was beautiful shades of blue, aquamarine to royal, the temperature a comfortable cool-warm.

We started of heading east, hugging the north shore of Little Abaco Island and then turned south to run along the east shore of Great Abaco Island. The water never got deeper than 18 feet, even miles offshore. 

The Abacos were decimated by Hurricane Dorian in 2019, regarded as The Bahamas' worst natural disaster. All the trees on the islands still look like they were stripped of leaves and the houses along the shoreline appear uninhabitable. We saw many signs of continued repair and rebuilding going on- dredges, barges hauling material and debris, cranes, heavy equipment on the shore. Now COVID has decimated the islands' tourism-based economy, just as businesses are re-opening from the hurricane. What bad luck.

We turned west to head towards Green Turtle Cay, a small islet about 3 miles east of Great Abaco. We dropped anchor in well-protected White Sound. When I went to record our distance sailed in the log, I was surprised to see that Intermezzo had just then turned over exactly 16,000 nautical miles since leaving San Francisco in October 2015.

We tried to clear Customs, but the agent had already left, so we "snuck" onto shore to enjoy rum punches at the Green Turtle Club Resort and Marina, a very nice boutique-rustic resort with very helpful and friendly staff. Properly refreshed, we took a short walk and discovered a pretty little beach on the Atlantic Ocean side of the cay.

Today we tried to find the Customs agent at nearby New Plymouth town, a short dinghy ride from our anchorage. No success, so I called the Green Turtle Club front desk and they told me the agent would arrive there by ferry "shortly". When I asked for a more specific ETA, the receptionist cheerfully told me, "I don't press her for the time when I call." I understood. The receptionist promised she would radio me when she had more information.

We returned to the boat and I set about replacing one of the pumps for the water maker that had stopped working. I had a complete replacement pump air-freighted to me in Lake Worth and figured on just swapping out the bad for the good pump. It wasn't as easy as that, as the old pump head had been modified by the water maker manufacturer to accommodate piping layout. I had to chose between machining the new pump head with a dremel tool or putting the old pump head on the new pump. The latter seemed easier, so I attempted that solution. However, the pump head body was frozen onto the motor shaft and I didn't have the tool required to pull it off. Then I looked at the old and new pump and realized that there was a pressure switch on the pump head. Perhaps that is what had failed. Sure enough, that's what it was. So I ended up just replacing the pressure switch on the old pump. I wish I had checked that before I removed the old pump, though. It would have saved hours of effort.  Oh well.

At 1530, we were informed that the Customs agent would be arriving on the next ferry. We had scooted over to shore earlier in anticipation and met the agent at the dock. We filled out immigration paper work, boat paper work, emailed out health visa and COVID test results (again) and paid our $300 cruising permit fee. All done cheerfully in less than an hour. In four days, we need to get a COVID antibody test to complete our health visa requirements.

Robin and Amy's sailing lessons continue. Yesterday, we covered points of sail and holding a course to the wind. Today, dinghy driving lessons.

Tomorrow I'll finish my pump replacement work and we'll explore the cay and its beaches.

(In case you missed them, here are links to my posts via satellite from our passage from Lake Worth to Little Sale Cay and our brief time there: En Route to Great Sale Cay, Little Sale Cay.)

Intermezzo anchored in the Little Bahama Bank off Little Sale Cay

The weathered and eroded limestone shore of Little Sale Cay

Intermezzo just turned over 16,000 nautical miles since leaving San Francisco

An indignant and combative crab on the beach at Green Turtle Cay

Green Turtle Cay shoreline, Atlantic side

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Little Sale Cay

February 6 2021 20:00
Little Sale Cay

Around midnight last night we were approaching Memory Rock, the entrance to the Little Bahama Bank north of Grand Bahama Island. Despite shortening sail to the minimum for sailing upwind, we were still loping along at over six knots. The water was over 600 feet deep. And then, 10 minutes later, it was only 32 feet deep!

The Bahamas are like great limestone plateaus with deep canyons between them. Some of these plateaus are islands, exposed above the water. Others are submerged, vast areas of shallow waters called banks. Our rapid decrease in water depth occurred as we crossed the nearly vertical wall of the Little Bahama Bank.

Once in the shallow water and in the lee of Grand Bahama Island, the seas calmed and the wind decreased to create ideal conditions for us to slow down the boat so as to arrive at our anchorage when the sun would be high enough for us to "read" the shallow waters.

The Little Bahama Bank seemed to stretch out forever, the water a dusty light blue with a touch of green. It reminds me of the ocean equivalent of driving across the flat plains of Nebraska.

Fairly strong southerly winds are forecast for tonight. The anchorage at Great Sale Cay where we originally planned to stop is exposed to the south, so we diverted to tuck in behind Little Sale Cay, a pretty little limestone island that will provide much better protection.

We circumnavigated Little Sale Cay in the dinghy. Most of the shoreline is weathered limestone cliffs rising vertically five to 15 feet above the water. Water has carved deep fissures in the faces of the cliffs and waves have undercut them to create ledges and little caves. Very interesting and beautiful.

After our dingy tour, we cleaned up the boat and I fixed my forward navigation light which was very burning very dim as we were sailing last night. It was probably not visible from more than couple of hundred yards away, rather than its required 2 mile range. It turned out the LED bulb was not making proper contact with its fixture. I had to rebuild it to make it work properly. Now other boats will be able to figure out what direction we are going in at night.

Tomorrow we depart at sunrise to sail the 50 nautical miles to Green Turtle Cay where we will officially clear into The Bahamas. We are presently flying our yellow "Q" (Quarantine) flag as required until cleared in. Quite appropriate in these days of COVID.

Friday, February 5, 2021

En Route to Great Sale Cay

February 5 2021 1900
About 28 nm east of Memory Rock, Bahamas Banks

We got underway early this afternoon and headed out the Lake Worth Inlet, which was congested with small power boats, lots of wakes, boisterous seas. Not much fun. Things got better when we got out onto the ocean, raised sails and started heading towards The Bahamas.The wind was 15-18 knots from the south, which was promising and seas were a choppy.2 feet or so, just off the nose, not so promising.

To account for the 2-3 knot northerly current of the Gulf Stream, we had to steer a course about 22 degrees south of our rhumbline, the direct line between our starting point and first waypoint at Memory Rock. Unfortunately, this put us too close to the wind to sail and Intermezzo doesn't tack upwind worth a damn, so we had to motor sail for the first 20 miles or so.

Around 1730, the wind clocked to the SSW and we were able to turn off the motor and start sailing. The seas are sloppy, making for an uncomfortable ride and Amy is seasick, although bravely standing her 1800 to 2100 watch so far. We're going a bit faster than I'd like to be, but better that we get out of those seas to calmer waters in the lee of Grand Bahama Island.

Robin's a capable first mate and is helping Amy learn the ropes, which I appreciate.

It's warm again. Gulf Stream water temperature is in the low 70's and is warming the air above the sea.

Looks like we'll reach our destination at Great Sale Cay late tomorrow morning.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Lake Worth, Departing for The Bahamas

Intermezzo is now anchored out in Lake Worth, not far from the inlet that leads to the Atlantic Ocean. Tomorrow we set sail for The Bahamas after waiting patiently for our weather window.

Robin arrived arrived on Sunday around noon to join on as crew. She has quite a bit of experience crewing on other boats all around the world, including a recent trip to The Bahamas last year. She immediately set about to familiarizing herself with Intermezzo and asking me lots of questions.

Amy arrived later that evening, her flight having been re-routed. This is her first time sailing and stepping onto the boat was the beginning of a new experience, which started off with a dish of my "famous" Thai curry.

A windy cold front has been blowing here until yesterday. When I arrived in Florida, I stored the space heaters thinking that I wouldn't need them again, thank goodness. But I had to pull them out as nigh temperatures descended into the low 40's.

While the cold front kept us in port, we used the time wisely. We got tested for COVID, as required for entry into The Bahamas (all of us negative for the virus), we went shopping for a month's worth of provisions and I got Amy and Robin oriented to the boat and learn how we do things on board Intermezzo. I'm teaching at two levels. For Amy, it's all new. For Robin, it's either boat-specific equipment and procedures or taking her skills up a notch or two.

So far we have covered topside orientation (rigging, controls, etc.), safety equipment, below deck orientation (bilge pumps, seacocks, etc.), engine checks, checklist for getting underway, man overboard equipment and recovery, VHF radio procedures, basic knots, engine starting, docking and raising sails. Today they got some practical experience docking and anchoring. We'll move onto passage-related training when we get underway tomorrow.

Our plan is to leave Lake Worth inlet in the afternoon to cross the Gulf Stream to arrive at Memory Rock at the edge of The Bahamas Banks a few hours before dawn, a 53 nautical mile (nm) passage. We'll sail another 44 nm across the banks to Great Sail Cay to arrive there around midday, where we'll enjoy an overnight rest stop at anchor (we can't go ashore until we clear in with customs and immigration).

The next day we'll get an early start and sail 50 nm to Green Turtle Cay where we will clear in. We'll probably hang there for the next five days, as we are required to get a COVID antibody test then.

The weather is looking very promising for our passage with 10-15 knot southerly winds and 1-2 ft waves. We'll be crossing the strong 2.5-3 knot Gulf Stream current, so we'll be steering on a constant heading about 30 degrees south of our rhumbline bearing to counter the northerly set of the current. This is the longest passage with a strong orthogonal current I've had to navigate and I'm excited to find out how my chart plotting turns out.

We're all excited about leaving tomorrow. It's going to be hard not to jump the gun and leave too early which would have us sailing on the shallow banks in the dark. We'll fill up the hours with more training to avoid that. I might have to slow the boat down again, like on the passage from Doboy Sound to Port Canaveral, too.

One of our neighbors on the dock at New Port Cove Marina

Our planned route from Lake Worth to Great Sale Cay