Monday, April 27, 2015

Safe In Hatchet Bay

We had a great time in Rock Sound, met some people, had some fun.  Life was easy there.  But time and weather march on and when the rain and wind finally let up a bit we were undecided.  We considered the options.  The problem was the west wind.  There aren’t many places on the west side of Eleuthera that offer any protection from the raucous swell that rolls in when there is any kind of westerly component.  

By mid morning we were still anchored in Rock Sound and it looked like we would be there for another few days.  I had all but given up on being able to get the boat to Marsh Harbour by the 8th of May when our friends from home would be arriving.  It is what it is…  Suddenly I got a wild hair.  I called French Leave Marina in Governors Harbour.  They are a relatively new place and I heard they had mooring balls.  Why would we want to pay for a mooring ball when we can anchor for free?

Governors Harbour (N25°11.850, W076°14.911) is notorious for it’s poor holding.  The bottom is reportedly scoured and is mostly rock.  I’ve heard this from friends who have been there.  There is some sand near the shore but with a west wind, anchoring close to shore would be impossible with our draft. If the weather forecast called for east winds, or better yet, NO wind… we could go there no sweat.  Or… if we could grab a nice mooring ball and not have to worry about our anchor dragging at all!  

Jezabelle now rides in the cockpit
So at about noon, I called French Leave Marina and secured a mooring for the night and maybe two.  Bruce was a little surprised when I told him I wanted to leave NOW.  But he fell right in with it and we got the boat ready in record time.  We said goodbye to the other boats hunkered down in the wind and intermittent rain and we motored out of the sound.  

The winds were blowing 12-15 knots allowing us to sail along at over six knots for most of the way.  The ride was comfortable, Jezabelle stayed in the cockpit the whole way and we were congratulating ourselves on our decision.  Our hope was that when the winds died off in the late afternoon, it wouldn’t be too bad.  

We arrived at our destination at almost 5 pm.  We searched the shoreline for familiar landmarks and tried to match our memories of our last visit here in 2011 aboard the Liberty Clipper with what we were seeing.  The place looked a little bit run down but we were able recognize the places we had been.  

We picked out one of about six moorings and I began the approach with Bruce on the bow.  I don’t know what we were thinking.  The waves were lifting the bow up and plunging it down violently.  Even if we could get the ball with the hook, there wasn’t a pennant on it and there would be no way Bruce could get a line on the small ring on top of the ball.  

We made three passes, the third of which ended with Bruce being dragged along the lifeline leaving a bleeding gash across his chest.  The sun was setting and our options were narrowing.  We decided to try and lasso the ball with a line and then splash the dinghy so we could go out and string our mooring lines.  It didn’t take long for that plan to succeed and we stood on the leaping bow wondering why we hadn’t thought of that in the first place…  We were finally moored and settling in for a sundowner about an hour and a half after we arrived.  

The winds did moderate and the waves began to calm down apologetically and we ended up having quite a peaceful night’s sleep…  Until about 3:30 in the morning.  The wind piped up again and the waves reawakened in a frenzy and that had everyone in our household cringing with every yawning roll.  By daylight, we decided enough was enough… we’re getting OUT of here!  

As soon as we could see, we prepared the boat to leave.  We didn’t even have COFFEE!  That’s how miserable it was.  There was a catamaran on the next ball over preparing to leave as well.  I looked over and my jaw dropped in horror as I realized that beneath the leaping catamaran was the head and shoulders of a man carrying a boathook.  He must have fallen in and a woman was frantically trying to throw him a life jacket.  There was nothing we could do since the dinghy was already on the davits and the motor wasn’t on it.  We just stared as the huge cat backed away from the man and swung on the ball.  He was somehow able to swim to the stern in the huge waves and board the boat.  They then dropped their mooring lines and powered out… with us just moments behind them.  

We were barely making way against the wind and big waves until we got far enough out to fall off and set our course.  We rolled out reefed sails and settled in for a bumpy ride.  It wasn’t as nice as yesterday, but it was better out here than it was in that anchorage for sure.  We picked our way through hundreds of crab traps, their small white balls blending in with the whitecaps, making relaxation impossible.  

Pretty big waves
Normally I prepare for each passage and familiarize myself with the approach.  Our crash take off left me scrambling to review all of our resources.  I even contacted our friends on Kelley Nicole, whom we knew had been in Hatchet Bay for the past week.  After a quick rundown on the keyhole entrance, I figured we could do it.  At least, that’s what I tried desperately to convince myself.  

I know it's here somewhere...
The winds began to moderate as we neared the entrance.  Unfortunately they also turned more to the north which took us far inshore and off our course.  It was that or roll in the sails and take our chances with the waves… we decided the steadying influence of the sails was preferable to holding to the rhumb line this early in the day, and if we could piddle around out here and give the winds time to settle even more, it would be a good thing.  

Finally we began to close in on the island and had to drop sails.  We motored about the last five miles or so, again dodging crab pots.  We motored along a rocky cliff which I thought must be close to our destination.  I couldn’t see anything that looked like a cut.  Suddenly, there it was.  

The entrance to Hatchet Bay is literally cut through the rocky cliff and leading to a calm inner harbor.  I was nervous about the warnings I had read of following seas causing the boat to wallow and possibly… to drift to the bank.  But as we lined it up, I realized that we had more of a crosswind, to which I adapted easily.  Bruce was on the bow again to direct me to the deeper water and I powered it up and blasted our way in.  

There were a few moments during which the boat felt like she was dancing light on her feet… and then we settled down to a calm and serene pace.  The narrow banks fell away leaving a wide open lake.  It was such a contradiction to the wildness outside I could hardly believe it.  We could ride out a hurricane in here and never feel it.  The basin is surrounded by modest tree covered hills.  The sound of roosters crowing added to the lazy feel of the place.  And as an added bonus, we found an empty mooring ball.  Af FREE mooring ball.  
Totally calm inside
In no time we were moored once again.  The two moorings could not be more different.  We marveled once again how we never know how our day will end.  The weather forecast for the next week calls for several days of very high winds and rain with some squalls.  We realized that we would be staying here for some time.  No use in grousing about it, we’re lucky to have found such a safe and FREE harbor.  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Exploring Rock Sound

We’ve heard nothing but good things about Rock Sound, so now let us throw our praise upon the pile.  Our four nights here are a blur of random Cruiserness.  Our first order of business was to get rid of our stinky trash!  We have been carrying around a gradually growing bag of trash for a solid week!  Disposing of garbage on the islands is an adventure in itself.  All through the Exumas we found that trash could be disposed of… for a fee.  Everywhere we went there was a charge of $2 to $5 per bag.  They just have nowhere to put it all… We didn’t find anyplace on Long Island and didn’t take it ashore on Cat Island… Lucky for us, Rock Sound has multiple collection barrels all along the streets and they are free of charge!  We like free things!

Next order of business is to find water.  We left Georgetown with full tanks and have been really frugal in our usage, but I worry constantly about running low on water and there is bad weather coming.  We might be stuck on the boat with no water.  Boy will I be GLAD when we get a water maker!  Another kudo for Rock Sound is the FREE WATER!  We asked other cruisers and quickly figured out the drill.  

Filling the water jugs
We dinghied up to the shore, best done at high tide to avoid scraping the dink on the rocks and glass… then crossed the street to the public spigot.  After testing it and finding it to be very good (measuring 186 ppm) we made two trips back and forth to shuttle water to the boat before declaring our work done for the day.  

The public dock
The condition of Rock Sound Settlement is much improved above the many others we’ve visited.  Although there are still a fair amount of derelict structures scattered around, there is a marked improvement in the overall condition of the place.  I would love the chance to go inside of one of these old homes from a time gone by and feel the history.  
Fresh catch!  

Our goal was to find Sammy’s Place.  We had to ask twice for directions as the signs are sometimes missing and there are several turns to make before we finally found the unimposing place…  All sources say that this is the place to eat here in Rock Sound and they were not lying.  We were the only dine-in customers while there, but they did a brisk take-out business.  We ordered a fisherman’s platter that had a combination of lobster, conch, shrimp and fish with the typical Bahamian sides of Fries, mac & cheese and peas & rice.  Not typical were the unique flavors of these side dishes.  Each dish was obviously prepared with individual attention and pride.  We thanked the cook for one of our best meals since arriving in the Bahamas.  Then we waddled our bursting tummies back to the boat and fell into bed.

Airing our dirty clean laundry...
The sun was shining bright the next morning.  The combination of free water, sunshine and a growing bag of stinky dirty laundry had me thinking I should drag out the laundry buckets and have a go at it on the cheap.  Laundry costs us anywhere from $15 to $42 to wash 4-5 loads.  We had spent a bundle after our guests left in Georgetown and were hot to defray costs at every opportunity.  So I spent the entire morning making a new batch of laundry soap, plunging load after load of dirty laundry in the wash and rinse buckets, then painstakingly pinned the newly sweet-scented skivvies and such to the lifelines to dry in the gentle breeze and sunshine…

Then it began to rain.  Well, we would have a second final rinse before we could collect everything off the lines.  Finally everything was washed and hanging out to dry in the sun.  We had made arrangements with some of the other Cruisers anchored here to go on a little field trip.  We left our laundry drying and dinghied over to the government dock to meet our friends.

Ocean Hole
There is another blue hole in town, this time more land locked than Dean’s Blue Hole.  We met up with three other boats, Rainbow, Bliss and one other I didn’t catch.  We traipsed through the streets of town to Ocean Hole.  This is a curious place.  It isn’t the beautiful blue we crave, but more of a dark and murky green.  For a second I considered NOT swimming in it but the heat of the day dictated differently.  We all donned our snorkels and fins and jumped in.

Ahhh the water was fine.  The light winds didn’t reach us here as we swam through the ocean fishes gathered near the platform.  

My guess is that they get fed often because we hardly found any fish the further we got from the entry.  This was proven when several groups of tourists showed up with food.  The fishes went wild.  

I swam away from the group, then got spooked and returned to the fold.
Ocean Hole is over 600 feet deep and rises and drops with the tide, suggesting some underwater connection with the ocean.  That connection has never been found even though many years ago Jacques Cousteau tried and failed.  Fascinating and a little creepy… I swam a short way around the perimeter but shied completely away from the murky green center that gradually darkened into nothingness.  I was glad for the small crowd of Cruisers as I started to freak myself out and scurried back to the pack.  

We started to get chilled so we left the water to go look through the tourist trinkets offered by local women beneath a nearby gazebo.  We looked through it all and I was tempted to buy a handmade set of sea glass jewelry but settled instead for a simple hair band to keep my hair out of my eyes when I work the helm.  Practical in all things these days.  I have enough pretties that I almost never wear.  Plus, I was thinking ahead to revisiting a little shop in Governor’s Harbor where I had found sea glass jewelry when we were here back in 2011.  

Soon we were all done shopping and went off walking around the banks of Ocean Hole in search of a beverage.  We sat at a table outside of a small liquor store where we had all purchased a drink until we finished.

The skies were beginning to look ominous.  Hmmm…  So we took off through the streets of town toward the dock and it began to rain!

We ducked beneath a shoreside gazebo and laughed about it as we watched the skies devour our anchorage.  The rain stopped as quickly as it had started and we took off.  

Although it was already too late for our clothes… we thought we should hurry back.  There was our boat, sitting still with our sunshades covering fore and aft deck and clothes lining the rails like the Beverly Boatbillies.  We spent the rest of the afternoon rotating clothes, flipping them so that their other sides could dry and thus speed up the process.  It never rained again, but as darkness fell we were still piddling with laundry.  It finally did all get dry.  
Rain enveloping the anchorage

That's our boat with all our laundry hanging out!

The rain let up and we made a run back to the boats

Soggy laundry

Rainy days have the best sunsets…

Dock at Wild Orchid
The next day we were to meet up again with our friends but not before we made a run to the Market.  We parked the dinghy at a dock that belonged to the Wild Orchid restaurant.  They weren’t open this early and the place looked like it could be a pretty neat place to have a happy hour.

The Market was just up the road north from there about a quarter mile.  We had left with no breakfast and were glad to find two ladies selling baked goods on the sidewalk outside the market.  We bought pound cake and ate some before we went in to shop.

This is supposed to be one of the better grocery stores in the outer island settlements and it was.  The stock was a little hit and miss, but it had everything we needed.  I don’t know if I’m just getting used to the prices here in the Bahamas being inflated or what, but their prices were surprisingly reasonable for the things we needed.  We loaded up our stuff into the cold bags we had brought and stuffed them into the little red cart we got from another Cruiser back in Georgetown.  

We finished our pound cake as we retraced our steps back to the dinghy.  We loaded everything on and I sat watching the critters around the dock while Bruce worked on starting the dinghy.  We haven’t had too much trouble with it until lately.  It seemed to be running sort of weakly as if it was tired.  Today, it stopped running at all.  Bruce piddled with it for a while as our cold stuff undoubtedly suffered the heat… until I started just paddling us towards the boat…about a half mile away.  Eventually Bruce took up his oar and we made slow time until Scott from Bliss saw us paddling and came out to tow us the rest of the way.  My arms were just about to give up so I was very happy to see Scott.  

Looks like a party going on!
We were supposed to meet up with the gang at 10:00 to go to the beach, but with the dinghy out of commission that wasn’t going to happen.  Bruce messed around with it and finally got it going again and we found out that nobody else was ready either so we rescheduled for 1pm.  Perfect.  After a quick lunch, we loaded up and met everybody at the dinghy dock.

Now this walk to the Atlantic side was supposed to have been about 2 miles each way.  It showed to be a little more like 2.5 on the chart… but it seemed like a LOT more in reality. The winds were light and it was full on sunshine and hot.

I just LOVE the tiny cemeteries all over the islands!
We walked along in companionable conversation and finally reached the top of the hill where we could look down and see… very. far. away… the other side.  Oh well, we’re committed.  So on we went.  

The reward for the grueling hike was a stunning view and a beach all to ourselves.  We found a shady spot to leave our stuff and we all stripped down to our swimsuits and eased into the cool water.

If I had to find something to complain about (just so that you know my life isn’t perfect) I would say that there was a little bit of seaweed in the waves that wrapped itself around me in creepy fashion, but that would be about it.  

We bobbed and floated and had a grand time until we could find no more excuse not to get out and begin the journey back over the island again.  We shared one more beverage, descending upon the poor liquor store owner like a swarm of thirsty locusts… We were probably the bulk of his business for the week.  While sipping our beverages, we told everyone that we would most likely be leaving in the morning.  We said our goodbyes with hopes of meeting again and split up into two smaller groups.

We would wander home and then meet up later aboard Bliss for happy hour after showers and a quickly thrown together snack to share.  We had another boat join us after a bit and got to meet Bill and Gayle on Spiraserpula.  She is VERY interesting to me because she’s a marine biologist and knows all about the critters we find snorkeling.  We hope to get to know them better… but for now, our time here is done.  Weather says move on.  There are several stops we’d like to make on Eleuthera and time is short.  Next stop… Governor’s Harbor!