I wonder why it is that I feel awkward and embarrassed when I wave at someone passing and get no response – chances are they simply didn’t see. When passing another vessel it’s often a courtesy to acknowledge the other with a friendly wave. We try to adhere to this gesture and sometimes the report is, let’s say, casual or non-existent.
As we cruised past one sailboat at a lone anchorage back at Norman Cay we were taken by the exuberance of the wave from those on board, not merely a raising of the arm, but a full extension, with articulation at the elbow – surely an invitation to say hello.
After a few minutes chatting; four on board, farmers from Ohio, out for three months; we left them with an open invitation to stop by – they had noticed the Wanderbird while out fishing, and being sailors, commented that if they did ever go “motor”, ours was the type of boat they’d go for.
The topic turned to weather, as is often the case for ocean travelers, and the impending weather system on the approach.
Two days later, south at Norman Cay, a tender approaches from the stern and we’re happy to see our Ohio friends and we happily entertain a tour. They talk about living off the sea and comment about ‘missing some red meat in the diet’ and we arrange a pot-luck; we provide the burgers and they bring the freshly caught conch ceviche.
The next afternoon they come calling with their two, teenage daughters and we’re quite pleased to offer what we can to a family traveling so far, for so long. The girls are quite excited about the showers and everyone seems to delight in the extra bacon I prepared that morning on their burgers from Bush Brothers Provisioners in Palm Beach. We can’t get enough of that conch salad and are excited when they leave the left-overs after several hours of conversation while the wind builds to gale outside.
When it’s time to bid farewell we have offer a very wet and windy shuttle for several of our guests back and Dustin (the dad) manages to coerce their under powered tender to their cozy, well selected anchorage much closer to the beach.
Wanderbird proves fabulously stable and comfortable in this weather but there’s something to be said for simplicity and shallow draft, as I watch the Velocir anchored calmly in her protected nook.
Our time at Norman’s Cay was spent in equal parts exploring neighboring islands, including Highborne Cay, the areas super-yacht marina of choice. The restaurant here is quite good and expectedly high-priced. Don’t expect to explore the island except via the marina and restaurant; our Ohio friends were told the island is private when the came ashore to a beach using their dinghy.
Once the winds died we started our journey back to Fort Lauderdale by running North and West, first heading through the cut at Highborne and across the bank, to the West Bay on Nassau, just off Clifton Heritage Park. I desperately wanted to dive the submerge statues here, but the weather and timing were not conducive and it was stressful just winding our way through very shallow, rocky waters to the anchorage.
Once there we called on the radio for advice on getting ashore and a friendly motor-cat nearby gave us general directions to the dinghy dock. We motored across the dark back on a hunt for a few provisions to last us until Florida. On the south end we found a small channel with a well-lit dock that lead to a dirty lot, that seemed to be at the fenced-in end of a cul-de-sac. We flagged down a passing security vehicle who provided us further instructions away from the private dock to the crumbling public one across the channel. He was kind enough to call a taxi, which was fortunate, as the public dock, on ‘Jaws beach’ was 30 minutes from town, down a dark highway.
Once Miss Dawkins, our taxi driver found us, we provisioned at the local equivalent of Whole Foods, Solomon’s Fresh Market and after Miss Desiree gouged us for $100 taxi, we were loaded the tender and crossed back to the Bird for a late night dinner.
The following morning we pulled the anchor and began a rough slog north to the Berry Islands. It was a good test of how well we had secured the boat as we listed quite heavily between the swell and 20 knot winds. By mid-day we had slipped back into our little anchorage between Little Harbor and Frozen Cays, launched the tender and set out to explore the Blue Hole on Hoffman’s Cay, about a 30-minute tender ride north.
Had it been a nicer day, the Blue Hole would have been a dream for me, with it’s high, rocky, volcanic ledges and deep, blue waters, but the strong wind and cooler temperatures from the weather system hammering the Northeast kept me from jumping into the deep. Instead we explored the shoreline and it’s scatter conch shells and numerous echinoderms.
After a night at the Berry’s we had a rough hour cruising to the protection of the North winds by Chubb Cay before we crossed into relatively calm waters of the Great Banks. We weren’t sure about crossing the banks in such winds but it proved reasonable and a good opportunity to deploy the passive stabilization system, comprised of a set of poles and ‘birds’ – metal plates on tethered lines that restrict the listing of the boat in heavier seas on the beam. We also tested the mainsail as a means of propulsion having only used it previously to orient the boat in a windy anchorage.
Into the night we rounded Bimini and looked at Nixon Bay south of South Bimini but the winds had shifted East so we considered the West coast before we decided the swell might be a little much, despite a mid-sized catamaran anchored in the area. We decided to have a go at the crossing, having reviewed the latest weather.
About an hour into the venture things were getting a little wild. I had things pretty well secured from our earlier battle with the winds off the Berry Islands, but the swell from the Gulf Stream was just too much. We turned back sometime before 2AM and joined the catamaran for a somewhat rocky but comfortable few hours at anchor off Bimini.
In the morning after employing the French ring for Croque Madame, I free dove along the boat with the most fish I’ve seen yet in the Bahamas and two nurse sharks at least as long as I am tall.