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Our Great Bahamas Adventure: Part 1

white sandy beach in the foreground that's covered with crystal clear turquoise water extending to the horizon of a bright blue sky with a couple of clouds and land in the far distance

Wow, we have been on quite a journey over the last two months! It seems like just yesterday that we arrived in Great Harbour Cay, and here we are over two months later in the Abaco islands in the last few weeks of our Bahamas visit.

I have yet to make the time to write about our adventures in detail, so I will summarize our journey and the various adventures as best I can. In a future post, I will have more to say about how this blog is evolving.

sun just rising over the horizon of a clear sky with an island in the foreground and ocean around it.
Sunrise at White Cay, Berry Islands, as we prepared the boat for the daysail to Spanish Wells

Journey: White Cay towards Spanish Wells

After a week exploring Great Harbour Cay, it was time to continue moving. We left Great Harbour Cay or White Cay with plans to head for Spanish Wells next. We knew we wanted to get down to the Exumas but needed an additional stop. We could have stopped in Nassau but weren’t interested in the “big city” experience. We chose Spanish Wells because of its purported charm, copious resources, and beautiful anchorages. It certainly lived up to its reputation!

Our journey from White Cay in the Berry Islands to Spanish Wells (a large settlement in the Eleutheran island chain) was one of our longer Bahamian passages at 55 nautical miles (60 miles or 75km). The journey was approximately eight hours, and we sailed for one glorious hour before the wind died completely. We often have to choose between good wind or a calm sea state. Given our desire for a comfortable ride, we prioritize a calm sea state and are satisfied to motor when the wind isn’t in our favor.

view from the deck of sailboat, the main sail and the genoa unfurled, with a sunrise over the ocean ahead
Beautiful broad reach sailing out of White Cay in the first hour toward Spanish Wells

Exploring: Spanish Wells

Once we arrived, the winds were from the NE, and we opted to anchor right off of Russell Island. Spanish Wells Harbour isn’t a harbor. It’s a wide channel that behaves like a harbor and has all the busyness of a working harbor full of fishing and tourism. We took the dinghy into the harbor to scope the docks and determine a game plan for going ashore. After several days of moves, we opted for a rest day, going onshore only for dinner at Budda’s Snack Shack, which turned into a beautiful evening walk.

Renting a golf cart while anchoring near Spanish Wells was well worth the money. We had lunch at the Sandbar Beach Bar & Grill, which was delicious and scenic. Along the way, we stopped in gift shops and variety stores, expanding our understanding of Bahamians’ lives.

In every store, the proprietors have multiple businesses or types of products for sale. School uniforms are available next to tourist souvenirs and sewing supplies. The dive shop dealt in vegetable seeds and potting soil alongside their selection of fins, snorkels, and compressors. The Bahamian Hustle is a thing of beauty!

As our time in Spanish Wells ended, we stocked up for our passage to the Exumas, where it would be a week or two before we could get groceries again. While we had the golf cart, we did a provisioning run at the Food Fair, a big grocery store on the island. Charlie also stocked up on fishing gear at the local custom rod shop, Hot Rodz. To cap off our visit, we had lunch at The Shipyard, a restaurant at the northeast end of the island with incredible views and good food.

a man and woman pose with their arms around each other's shoulders in front of a multi-directional sign with a background of white fluffy clouds in a blue sky at dusk
Apple Watch remote control of the camera + propping the phone on the ground for a picture

Journey: Spanish Wells Towards Current Cut

We were ready to make our way towards Current Cut, but first, we needed to hide from some strong easterlies as the wind shifted. Our first stop was Meeks Patch, a fabulous little island just south of Spanish Wells offering protection from west or east winds (depending on which side you anchor on). The weather was not conducive to going ashore (windy and rainy), so we didn’t get to visit the pigs that live and swim here (a big tourist attraction). But we got some rest and prepped to move again after the weather settled.

The journey from Meeks Patch to the Current Cut anchorage was pretty short, and we had the wind in our favor, so we opted to sail! Woo hoo! We traveled down to an anchorage next to Current Cut in preparation for traversing the inlet, which is well known for being challenging to cross if poorly planned.

view from inside the sailboat cockpit. looking through 3 big glass windows at turquoise water. sailing instruments just below the windows show speed of 5.2 knots and depth of 13.6 feet. The boat is clearly heeled over 5-10 degrees
Meeks Patch to Current Cut was a short distance, and a good time to play with sailing

Current Cut: A Bit About Current

What’s so challenging about Current Cut? Inlets in the Bahamas are infamous for fast currents and big waves when the wind blows opposite the current, especially at peak ebb or flood currents. Ebb and flood currents are water movement away from (flood) or into (ebb) the ocean. When the tide goes from high to low, the water rushes away from land and back to the sea (due to the moon’s gravitational pull) and rushes back towards the land when the tide goes from low to high. In other words, the water comes in and goes out about every 6.5 hours.

The fastest flood current occurs midway from High to Low tide (think high water rushing out of an area). The fastest ebb current occurs midway from Low to High tide. Naturally, slack current (0 knots) occurs shortly after the High/Low tides and is where the water switches the direction it’s going (in or out). Because these max ebb/flood currents are up to 2-3 knots, they can cut a sailboat’s speed-over-ground to 2-3 knots (2.5mph), making a short distance turn into a much longer ordeal if your boat does only 5-6 knots and you haven’t planned well.

That brings us to the wind component. Because the current is movement, it has direction. When the wind blows in the opposite direction of the current, waves build much faster. The faster the wind (10-15 knots) and opposing current (2-3 knots), the bigger and nastier the waves will be. This wind-against-current phenomenon is not unique to the Bahamas. Wind-against-current is a fact in boating anywhere a narrow passage of water exists (see also Lake Worth Inlet, St. Augustine Inlet, Charleston Inlet, etc.).

graphic depicting how wind against current causes waves to build quicker and higher
A graphic showing how wind against current causes waves to build, courtesy of

How We Navigate Cuts

Thus, we needed to make sure we went through Current Cut as close to slack tide as possible and with the wind in our favor (i.e., not against any current). What makes this more challenging in the Bahamas is the lack of precise tide times. The Bahamas is notorious for not having any precise tide timings (Nassau is the only actual tide station in the Bahamas) because of the geography of the sea bed. So, all tide times (except for Nassau) are rough estimates, and we do our best to get updated local knowledge whenever we enter a new area.

For Current Cut, we used the standard accepted “tide times are 1.5 hours past the Nassau tide station” logic. As we approached the cut, we also listened to the VHF updates from boats going through the cut at different times. This was a great way to cut our teeth on planning and executing a passage through a major inlet.

And I’m happy to report that we were successful! We had about a half knot of current against us, which was fine because we can motor at 7 knots, so our effective speed was 6.5 knots. We also didn’t have any wind to speak of, resulting in sedate seas. Overall, it was quite a boring event that was very anti-climactic. We always prefer anti-climactic events. That means we got our planning right!

From Current Cut, we continued south to the Exumas, which I will cover in the second part of this series.

Sailing to Current Cut
Going through Current Cut

Adjusting to Cruising Life

Throughout the last few months, we are also adjusting to the realities of cruising in the Bahamas: learning how to pick anchorages that protect us from swell (that’s what makes sleeping in a boat uncomfortable) vs. wind, planning our meals and provisioning, how to get ashore, where to dispose of trash, and how/when to empty our holding tank (the tank that holds our poop/pee).

I have to admit: the first few weeks of being in the Bahamas didn’t feel like the fun vacation that I had imagined. It was work! And I had taken for granted that it wouldn’t feel like work. We were learning how to live on a boat in another country.

Granted, it wasn’t the “9-5 working for the man” kind of work. Not by a long shot. The work was primarily emotional and mental work, which included calculating water usage, planning passages, and assuring myself that we were safe.

Is This Unexpected Work?

I don’t know that I can accurately describe the kind of work this was because we take so many things for granted in land life. In a land house, I don’t have to think about emptying the poop/pee tank. I don’t have to make sure that I’ve filled up my freshwater tanks so I have enough water for laundry, flushing toilets, and the rest of my needs. I don’t have to consider which appliance to run because we’re limited in power. I don’t have to figure out how to position my house to keep it safe from wind and waves.

Yes – these are all things that I knew coming into this lifestyle change. I read all about it before moving onto the boat. Even living on the boat in the Chesapeake all last summer, I got a taste for the realities of this choice. However, being in a foreign country and making every effort to live on anchor pushed my experiences into the next level.

sunset over a dark body of water, the silhouette of a catamaran in the distance. the sun is setting behind fluffy grey clouds, producing a gold yellow backlight on the blue sky
Another Bahamian sunset, from the anchorage outside of Spanish Wells

Ding: Level Up!

So we leveled up! We now have more practice anchoring (and re-anchoring) and choosing an anchorage. Charlie and I can swap roles, one of us at the helm and the other at the bow/anchor. We are getting a good routine down for setting and picking up our anchor. We’ve even sailed off anchor (no motor) once, which was a very exciting accomplishment.

We are learning so much, and I’m happy to report that while the first few weeks (maybe a full month?) were a lot of work, the last month has been settling into a pleasant cruising routine. We know how to find the grocery stores and fuel. We know when to make water (every day since our watermaker makes only seven gal/hour right now) and when to dump our holding tank (whenever we’re in deep water). Our power consumption has become a non-issue because our solar upgrade is paying off huge dividends with the long, frequently sunny days.

Some of this is confidence. Some of this is experience. A lot of this is having faith in ourselves and believing in ourselves. We still have much to learn, especially as we are planning our passage north back to the US for hurricane season. That passage won’t be easy, but we are already making plans. We are looking at hitting the Chesapeake for some repairs and, ultimately, New England for the summer. We plan to revisit our New England cruising plans from last summer, as well as do a little bit more work. And we’re bringing all of the lessons we’ve learned with us.

4 thoughts on “Our Great Bahamas Adventure: Part 1”

  1. “The work was primarily emotional and mental work” I feel that. I feel like boat ownership has very much felt more like emotion and mental work even while physically working on the boat!

    Hope we can connect when you all make it back to the Chesapeake! Will you be heading back down south next fall?

    1. Boat ownership/maintenance is easy. Living on a boat is hard! 🧐 It’s such a different game from land life.

      And Yes! We’re planning to head down to the Caribbean next year and maybe not come back north for the next hurricane season. That’s the loose plan anyway🤗

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