Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Great Inagua Far Bahamas

The Far Bahamas… I’ll say.  I just realized that we’re over 400 miles from Cat Cay where we entered Bahamian waters in December.  Heck we’re less than 50 miles from Cuba where we sit right now…  Food for though there…

We crossed the 5,000 mile mark shortly before we arrived here on Great Inagua. Yes we have Cruised over 5,000 miles since September 30, 2013.  WOW…  That’s a lot of miles when you consider we only travel at about 6 miles per hour. 

We’re also finally reached “The Tropics”… as in, we crossed 23.5° North Latitude which is the northern boundary of the zone.  I’m officially SAFE from winter!!! 

Great Inagua is the last Bahamian Island we will visit before we make the giant leap to our THIRD country (if you count the US) and the Caribbean Sea.  While waiting for our weather window we’ve had a lot of time to think about that.  So many times we find ourselves staring at the remote scene around us and wonder “how did we get here from there?”  It’s astounding when you think about it really… 

The "dock"?
Our first anchorage in the northern part of Man-O-War Bay was simply stunning.  It is fringed on one side by a slice of heavenly beach.  On the other side lies the incredibly deep blue water of the Atlantic.  Ours was the only sailboat in sight and we wondered why…  It’s strange to realize how really alone we are.

The Island is surrounded by coral reef with only a narrow shelf of shallow water hardly wide enough to find a spot to drop the hook in many places.  It’s simply amazing to sail from waters in the thousands of feet deep… and then mere minutes later we’re dropping an anchor in 15 feet. 

Even finding depths that shallow is a challenge and there are lots of coral heads to contend with.  We followed the Explorer Chart to an anchorage on the NE corner of the Bay in hopes that the North swell would not find us.  There was a gentle swell that rocked the boat but it was not enough to complain about…  We dropped the anchor in clear water and white sand with coral patches all around us.  Too bad this is part of the Bahamas National Trust park and there’s no fishing allowed.  I just KNOW these rocks are full of lobster!!!

I was hot to get to town and re-provision but it looked like we would probably be here for a week before the weather window presents itself, so no need to rush into town just yet.  Bruce wanted to hang out here and explore the beach.  Our first morning here the weather was rainy and windy so we just hung out on the boat.  I was amazed at how tired we both were.  I guess passage making really takes more out of you than you realize.

This is not working...
By the second morning we were well rested and ready to go ashore.  We splashed the dinghy and took off for the dock.  The little bit of swell didn’t look like much until it reached the beach.  We tried tying the dinghy to the concrete dock structure but feared that the dinghy would be damaged by the constant rubbing against the concrete.  So we moved on to Plan B… a beach landing.  While all of this was going on, a man pulled up in a truck and came out to introduce himself as Henry, our local Bahamian National Trust Park Ranger.  AWESOME!  We made (very) loose plans for a possible tour of the island later in the week. 

There... that should hold it
With the dinghy anchored on the beach, we took off to explore the sand roads.  We found a salt pond very close and were thrilled to see our first wild Flamingo!  There are reportedly thousands of them on this island but we only found the one.  It was a good distance away but still very cool.  I hear they are very skittish so viewing them from afar is probably the best we’re going to get. 

Cotton growing wild

The dreaded poison wood tree

A little further up the sand road we found some buildings that looked like they were some sort of “fair grounds”…maybe a venue for watching sailboat races. 

Imagine my delight when I spied a SWING!  There on that beautiful beach was a swing just waiting to be swung.  And I did!  I could just feel joy bubbling up inside me as I tried to go higher and higher… It’s harder than it looks!  Lying back in the swing and looking up at the blue sky through the Australian pines was sheer heaven.  

It was so nice to be on dry land again.  It had been five days since our feet had steady ground to walk upon and I was excited to hike the roads, not caring that Henry said there wasn’t anything to see…  Maybe he was right but just walking was very nice…

Of interest along the way… we saw cotton growing in the wild.  This brought thoughts of slaves and cotton fields and I wondered about the history of the island. 

There were a few birds around.  We had actually seen sea birds offshore long before we arrived.  Many of the islands in the Bahamas have few if any birds so hearing them twitter in the brush was nice.  We saw one small raptor-type bird and at first thought it was an osprey but it was too small… we found it nesting atop a headless palm tree. 

Photo of the day

I think we dragged anchor a little bit

Further along the path there was a large area that showed evidence of a recent fire.  Lighting strike?  Some trees were uprooted here and there… maybe from the hurricane?  All these things we would ask Henry.

We began to get hot and hungry so we backtracked to the boat.  After lunch we pulled up the anchor and motored right along the coast nearly ten miles to Mathewtown. 

Along the way we passed the Morton Salt complex.  There is a long conveyor that takes the salt to be loaded onto the boats for transport away from the island.  We hope to get up close and personal to one of those salt pyramids!  They look majestic from the water.  I wonder what happens to the salt piles when it rains…

Salt mountains

The dock for the big boats to carry the salt away

Devils Point
We picked our spot just outside of the government basin.  We were glad to drop anchor after our trip around Devils Point.  Aptly named… The waves built and the boat was bounced around to the point that I had begun to wonder if rounding the point so close had been a wise decision…  Especially under power with no sails up.  Best not to think those thoughts.
Big waves

Government basin under construction
Honestly the anchorage wasn’t much better.  We found clear sand but drug a bit before it set well.  The swell was considerably larger than it had been back in Man-O-War Bay.  And the view was no comparison to our lovely paradise of the night before. 

But we wanted to get diesel and provisions and this was the only town on the island… so endure it we must.  We’ve still got our eye on the weather and with this being completely exposed from all points but east, we might be moving on soon anyway.

The next morning we decided that the swell was manageable enough to try going ashore.  We headed into the entrance to the government basin and were surrounded by big boats and barges. 
The view

Another little cloud rainbow

There were dirt movers working to dig out the sandstone from the perimeter of the basin, enlarging it in big chunks.  We motored around looking for anything that looked like a dock…  Workers on the boats just held out their arms like “I don’t know what to tell you”. 

Feeling small

We spotted what looked like a boat ramp and squeezed between two big vessels to tie up to a large bollard on the wall.  This is obviously not meant for cruisers or small boats… but the people around the basin were nice and looked sympathetic as they watched the idiots trying not to be killed.

The surge was throwing the dinghy up onto the concrete boat ramp and then sucking it back off again.  We decided that I would go in search of a source for diesel while Bruce kept the dinghy from being destroyed. 

This can NOT be it....
Some guys said it was about 200 meters up the road and so I took off.  There was one place that was about that distance but it was deserted and had only a rusted out gas pump and an equally rusted out vehicle up on blocks parked in front… This can’t be it.  I continued on.

The town was very neatly laid out and had several buildings that looked sort of “colonial”.  Very old.  Lots of damage from past storms or maybe things just fall to ruin here in the islands…  I found the Morton Salt Museum… would love to come back here… I passed the police station and found another small building with a lone gas pump outside.

The gas station

I spoke to some girls in a car parked in front of the fuel pump… they pointed me to a man standing by a fuel-truck talking on the phone.  I chit-chatted with the girls until the man was done with his phone call… No he couldn’t help me but pointed me to the yellow building just to the right of the basin…

That’s the place I passed!  It was deserted!  So, defeated, I returned to the basin.  I found Bruce with a group of men. They had evidently been bonding and the guys told him where to go for diesel…

Yes it WAS the place just around the corner, but not the gas station… the HOUSE beside it.  We walked up there and knocked on the door.  No answer.  A car was just leaving around the side and a guy across the street told us to go around to the back… Feeling very strange, we did.

There was a woman leaving with fresh baked rolls.  Mmm I want some of those!  She offered to give us one.  No…  So in through the door we went and found ourselves in a very neat and tidy kitchen decorated in overwhelming black and white with yellow daisies. 

Long story short, the lady would bake us some bread if we wanted and yes, here husband, Leon (like a lion rooooooaaaaaaaowww) was the guy to see for diesel.  We went back and got our jerry cans and left them with him as he was airing up the tire on his truck. 

We would go to the grocery store and pick up a few things and meet him back at the basin with our filled diesel jugs.  Feeling better about life, we headed for the market.

There was a lot of activity inside… the supply boat had come the previous day and the stores were flying off the shelves before they could even be set out.  Literally people were standing at the back door to the storeroom asking for things that would then be handed out.  I picked up some eggs and when I came back down the aisle again moments later the eggs were almost gone!!!

I was looking for milk and there was none in the case… a woman got a gallon for me from the store-room…  Wow it was a zoo!

We took our things and checked out and were pleased to find Leon with his truck waiting at the door for us.  We piled our bags into the back with the diesel and hopped into the truck next to him.  Conversation was difficult with the radio blaring… but the ride was short through the back roads of the town.

Fuel first
We found our dinghy being pushed and pulled by the surge and wondered how we were going to get these jugs and bags in and get out of here alive.  Leon unloaded our stuff while we untied the dinghy… Bruce paid for the diesel… just under $7.00 per gallon… and the highest price we had ever paid for diesel…  Bruce tried to tip Leon but he smilingly told us that he owns the land here and we probably would need those dollars more than he did.  Very true.  He then continued to help us get our stuff into the dinghy.  We waded into the water and boarded and zoomed out the narrow opening to the basin and out to the boat. 
Groceries next

The exit...
What an adventure THAT had been! 

That was Saturday.  For the duration of our stay here on Great Inagua we were plagued by the incessant swell.  The boat rolled and bounced continually.  Sometimes it would calm somewhat… briefly…  At first our attitudes were good and hopeful that it would moderate with the winds turning more east from NE. 

All day Sunday we stayed onboard, reading and napping.  We couldn’t do much more.  We were hopeful that we could go ashore and get fresh bread and maybe hook up with Henry for that island tour to see the flamingos and the Salt Factory… 

Going out full
All day long we watched the dirt movers loading sandstone from the basin onto a barge.  The barge would periodically back out of the basin and take the rock to just beyond the shallow water and drop it off of the shelf… Then it would return and get loaded up again.  Repeat.
Returning much lighter

We slept some, but sleep was interrupted by a huge swell that would roll the boat and rock us from side to side, almost tossing us out of bed.  It’s a miracle that nobody was seasick, not even Jezabelle. 
Sunset between the squalls

The lighthouse in action

Monday came and we were hopeful that things would settle down enough to allow a shore visit, but with passing squalls and the increased activity in the basin… it didn’t look promising. 
Neighbors arrived

We were able to contact Chris Parker for weather information and he told us that we would have reasonable weather for leaving here on Tuesday.  Soon we would be free. 

The swell continued.  I cooked passage food… pasta salad, boiled eggs, a cake.  Try making a cake with a rolling boat and just see how that turns out… 

More loads.  The basin is just not safe...
Other than that we had a repeat of the previous day… reading, rolling, napping, rolling, watching boatloads of sandstone being dumped off the ledge…  By this time we were just wishing the time away. 

NOW we know why nobody comes here…  I had hopes that things would settle once the winds clocked around to the SE… but no.  The swell just came from the other direction. 

The three of us were in “endurance mode”.  The end was in sight so we just had to (literally) hang on for a little while longer.  Now as I sit here listening to Chris Parker Weather and thinking about last minute preparations…  I am disappointed that we didn’t’ get more time to explore the treasures to be found ashore… but we’re really just ready to leave.  I can’t imagine that there are ever weather conditions here that would allow for a comfortable stay.  The remoteness of this place, the fact that it’s just a mountain jutting up from the ocean floor… makes for a continuous state of flux.  The lack of infrastructure for small or non-commercial vessels, no matter how welcoming the people, is just not adequate for our needs or comfort. 


  1. A fantastic report on a beautiful island. You really get the idea of just how isolated it is when you don't see any tourist boats or other sail boats at anchor. I also found very little in reviews of the island....happy sailing and be careful on your next leg.

    1. It really was nice and we would have loved to stay a little longer if we had better weather conditions. There is a tour of the salt production facilities and a trip to see the flamingos that we would have loved to take...

  2. Wonderful report! We have always wanted to go to Great Inagua, but maybe not so much anymore. You said you wanted to learn about the island. I read the most amazing book about Great Inagua called "Inagua" by Robert Klingel. It was written in 1940. It is not only solid work of natural history, but also a high adventure. It was recently re-issued by Mr. Klingel's daughter and is available on Amazon.

    1. Don't let our weather experience deter you, I would still love to tour the island. But the weather said go! The people were very friendly and really want tourists by boat to come. I think once the work being done on the basin is finished it will go back to being a great place to visit.