Thursday, May 4, 2017

Whirlwind Week in Abaco

We docked at Fort Pierce, FL this morning at 10am, completing our nearly 3-month shakedown cruise of the Bahamas. Yep, we came back a little earlier than planned and spent less time in the Abacos than we were hoping. There was a good weather window and the long-term prognosis was not good so we decided to take it. Hopefully we'll be able to spend more time in the northern Abacos upon our return in November.

We crossed from Eleuthera to Abaco not even a week ago. We were anchor up from Governor's Harbour at 9am on Friday and anchored off Great Guana Cay just after 10am on Saturday. The first portion of the sail took us nearly due west (and almost directly downwind) - we motored until the wind picked up and then sailed, jibing downwind. Once we turned north at Fleeming Channel we put two reefs in the main and doused the yankee in favor of the staysail, as conditions were quickly becoming more rambunctious. The southeasterly trades were brisk, 20 gusting 25, and once we were out of the wind shadow of Eleuthera the swell and chop quickly built. It was a bumpy night with mostly 4-5 ft waves; we did get whacked right on the beam with a couple of 7-8 footers too. Because of the southeasterly swell we used Man-O-War Channel to enter the Sea of Abaco; it faces NE and is quite deep and wide, and therefore not prone to raging (we entered on a rising tide as well). After anchoring we swam and napped, and later went to Grabber's for a drink and Nipper's for an excellent seafood dinner.

On Sunday we beat 13nm back southeast to get to Hope Town. The entrance is quite shallow and narrow, and it was important to enter near high tide. We nailed the timing and never saw less than 7.5 feet on the way in. Hope Town was quiet due to the Sunday but we nevertheless enjoyed walking around the quaint town. We finally found an indisputably pink beach (most of the supposed pink beaches have just a slight rose tinge) and Dawn and Judy collected some of the sand for planned crafty projects. On the way back I shot some hoops with a local kid and then we stopped at The Reef bar (at the Hope Town Harbour Lodge) to enjoy the wonderful view of Elbow Cay's outer reef while sipping a cool beverage. Later we visited several cruisers around the harbour.

It was Chris Parker's weather net on Monday morning that made me realize we should probably take the upcoming weather window or risk getting stuck in Abaco. I have a nine-day international trip that reports on May 17th; I'm planning to actually fly it (gotta rebuild the cruising kitty!) and accordingly need to get the boat in position. Judy was originally planning on flying out of Marsh Harbour the following day, but we invited her to stay for the crossing if she wished, and after talking it over she decided to do so. It was great having her these last two+ weeks - she's a wonderful guest and of course a fount of information about the boat. And on the overnight passages it's very nice to have a third crewmember to stand watch.

We left Hope Town on the high tide Monday at 11:30am and made the quick motorsail across to Marsh Harbour. We pulled up to the fuel dock at Conch Inn & Marina and filled our diesel tanks; we'd used 63.5 gallons in the ten weeks since last filling up in Nassau. After anchoring out in Marsh Harbour I fixed our big bilge pump while the girls made a reprovisioning run; later we all went out to eat in town. It was early to bed in preparation for a full couple of days.

Tuesday we were anchor up at 8:15am, before the Chris Parker net had even concluded. It was a light-air day and we spent most of it motorsailing, plus a few hours sailing almost dead downwind (at 4-5 kts) under spinnaker. The Whale Cay passage was dead calm when we transited it, a rarity in winter. From there we passed Green Turtle, Nunjack, Spanish Cay, and several other cays we'd originally intended to stop at. When we launched the spinnaker we were pleased to find it flew well even at very broad reaching angles despite our lack of a spinnaker pole (which I had broken in Eleuthera). Dawn had the bright idea that I should climb the mast while we were flying the chute and I immediately latched onto the idea. With light winds and calm seas, it was perfect conditions and not quite as crazy as it seems. We got to Allens-Pensacola Cay around 5pm and found it an absolutely gorgeous spot that got absolutely hellacious with mosquitos once the sun went down and the wind went calm.

We lathered up with bug dope before running Piper to shore at 5:30am yesterday and thus survived the onslaught. We were underway at 6:30am and motored in glassy water for the first four hours. After that the wind filled in from the northeast, allowing us to motorsail for a few hours and then pure sail on a beam and then broad reach all afternoon long. The forecast was for gusty NE winds but they never really materialized, otherwise it would have been another perfect day to fly the spinnaker (and we could have flown in all night too). Instead we went back to motorsailing as the wind faded and moved directly behind us. We reached Memory Rock at 10pm and entered the Gulf Stream shortly thereafter. My "s-turn" planning worked out well again, and this time we got quite a nice boost from the current as our route to Ft. Pierce was on a 300-degree rhumb line. I had a few ships on my watch but the girls saw little traffic on theirs. I woke up again at 6:30am to listen to Chris Parker and then took the boat the rest of the way into Ft. Pierce inlet. The wind finally picked up to its forecast strength and we sailed the last three hours.

We arrived during an outgoing tide and the inlet was rather choppy with a nearly-4 kt current against the 20 knot wind. We got to Harbortown Marina and found it significantly shallower than advertised - as in, we were carving a groove in the silty bottom most of the way to our slip!! It's also a very tight marina and it took some delicate maneuvering to do a 180 degree turn in a narrow fairway and then shimmy into our rather small slip. I didn't hit anything though!

After docking I called U.S. Customs & Border Patrol to report our arrival, and they directed us to check in at a customs office within 24 hours. We decided to go right away and get it done at the Ft. Pierce airport, where Dawn and I had checked in the Pacer on our arrival from the Bahamas two years ago. The process was quite painless. Shortly after we got back to the marina, Judy's ride (family members Brad & Sue) arrived so we all had lunch at the marina bar & grill and then they headed to the West Palm Beach airport. Unfortunately flight prices had increased markedly overnight so Judy tried to get out on my Delta buddy pass, but both flights filled up and now it's looking like she'll buy a ticket on Spirit out of FLL for tomorrow.

Dawn and I took naps this afternoon and then upon waking took advantage of unlimited fresh water to give the boat a good cleaning - and to give our salty dog a much-needed bath! A big line of weather moved through with wind to 40 knots but it's gone now. I need to get to bed because we have another full day planned for tomorrow. We may be back in the US, but the cruise isn't over, and the next phase of Windbird's refit is just about to begin.


  1. Welcome back! I have really enjoyed following your adventures... Thanks!

  2. Thank yoso much for sharing your experience on the boat. It feels great when we are spending holidays on a boat.But yes I don't know such details about the boat you have mentioned.

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