Sunday, December 3, 2017

On The Road Again - Abaco to Exumas

Our alternator was indeed delivered as promised on Wednesday afternoon, though just a bit too late to get over to Hope Town as we were hoping. It's just as well, as it was a windy, squally night with a lot of rain. The next day was much nicer, with a brisk ENE wind, and we decided to bypass Hope Town this time and head down to Tilloo Cay. This involved basically a big S turn east around the peninsula that Marsh Harbor sits on and then west around Lubber's Cay Bar. We motored into the wind initially, then put out the sails and enjoyed everything from a beam reach, to gybing our way west, back to a beam reach, to a close reach and beating into the anchorage. Lots of fun. We deployed the dinghy and took Piper to Tahiti Beach, which he greatly enjoyed. We tried visiting Cracker P's on Lubber's Cay but it was closed.

On Friday we sailed down to Lynyard Cay and anchored, then took the dinghy down to Little Harbour. Along the way we checked out the Little Harbour Cut, which was rough but not breaking. In Little Harbour we looked through Pete Johnstone's sculpture gallery, which was really neat, and had lunch at Pete's Pub. Back at the boat we took naps, got the boat ready for sea, took Piper for one last potty break/beach run, and put the dinghy on the foredeck. We were anchor up at 4:15pm and motorsailing out of the cut by 4:45pm. It was pretty rough out on the ocean, a bit more than expected given the wind (NE at 15G20), at least until we got past the 100-ft dropoff. It was mostly 5-ft seas with the occasional 7-footer as the sun set.

Our route to Spanish Wells covered about 60nm but the last 10nm was over fairly shallow water that I didn't know well, so I wanted decent light before venturing across it, meaning we had only 50nm to cover in 14.5 hours. We started out with single-reefed main and double-reefed jib, and were still doing well over six knots. We decided to stay fast for the first bit in case the wind died, which it didn't though it eased a bit. So at 10pm we double-reefed the main and ended up sailing on that alone for the balance of the night, which slowed us enough that we didn't arrive off Egg Island until 4pm. At that point I deployed the staysail and hove to for the next 3 hours, which worked quite well (I alternated tacks every hour, so we just slowly forereached back and forth). At 7:30 the sun was high enough for me to see well to the NE, and the route into Spanish Wells turned out to be pretty easy and reef-free the whole way. The last bit is a bit shallow but we arrived at mid-tide so it was no problem. We were moored just east of downtown by 9:30am.

We put the boat back together, launched the dinghy and ran Piper to shore, then rested for a bit. After lunch we went into town and did a little provisioning at the store and filled both of our jerry cans with gas for the dinghy, then walked all around town with Piper. Spanish Wells is a fairly non-touristy, busy working fishing village that looked a little gruff at first but really grew on us. Something like 75% of the Bahamian spiny lobster harvest is caught by the Spanish Wells fishing fleet. The boats were all busy getting ready to go back out, loading lumber to rebuild their "lobster hotels" destroyed by the hurricanes that went through the southern Bahamas. We later learned that the boats - which were all clearly very well maintained - are all co-owned by their crews, who vote who their captain will be...just like the pirate ships of the 17th-18th centuries!

We were back at the boat for only a few minutes before an older couple dinghied up and introduced themselves. Tom and Jean are self-described CLODs ("Cruisers Who Live on Dirt!"); they used to have a Tayana 37 and then a Grand Banks 34 trawler, but now live in Spanish Wells for much of the year and sail a beautiful classic-styled catboat named Done Reach, which Dawn and I had been admiring on our walk around town. Tom and Jean invited us to happy hour at their house, which we duly accepted. Tom's brother Bob, who lives in Spanish Wells full-time, joined us, and we all had a really nice time talking about cruising, boats, Spanish Wells history, and the cool old house that Tom and Jean bought and restored. When they purchased the house in 1999, it was 101 years old and still had no electrical wiring (kerosene lamps), running water (cistern), or toilets (outhouse)!


We were originally planning to spend two days in Spanish Wells, as we were making up for this spring when a weather window to the Abacos prompted us to skip it, but weather once again intervened. Tomorrow (Monday Dec 4th) was forecast to be quite windy with a high overcast, and I was nervous about crossing the notoriously reefy Middle Ground in poor light. So we decided to leave today, which we did just before sunrise. It was 55nm from Spanish Wells to Highborne Cay in the northern Exumas, which we covered in under 10 hours. The Middle Ground was indeed reefy, but with Dawn on the bow directing me we were able to stay at pretty close to normal speed while making deviations of no more than 10 degrees. We motorsailed with mainsail alone during that portion in case we needed to maneuver quickly, but the rest of the afternoon was a beautiful beam-to-broad reach under sail alone.

I was super excited to get to the Exumas, but the day ended on a bit of a down note. After we started the engine to anchor at Highborne Cay, I noticed that the alternator wasn't charging the house batteries - again! I opened up the engine room, and the alternator is arcing again, worse than before. So we spent $350 to have it repaired in Marsh Harbour, apparently for nothing. Really, really disappointing, and we're in a much worse place now to get it repaired than in Marsh Harbour or Spanish Wells. But that said, we have wind and solar that almost keeps up with our demands, and I have a few things I can do to improve the solar's efficiency. And we do have a second alternator, which is currently keeping the engine battery topped off but which I can rewire to charge the house batteries. In a pinch there are a few marinas scattered up and down the Exumas which we can stop at to get a topoff from shore power. And finally we can retreat back to Nassau if required, though I was really hoping to avoid Nassau this year. Here at Highborne Cay we have good data and cell connections, so tomorrow I'll do some calling around to figure out our options for repair or replacement. I think we can make due to Georgetown, but I'd really like to have a functioning high-output alternator before leaving there for points south.

Ah well, it's always something. This is a beautiful sand anchorage to hang out at for a few nights, and we have a gorgeous full moon rising overhead tonight. We're really glad to be here after a couple of long sails south from the Abacos.

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