Carla, Richard, and I stayed a couple of days at the West End after our arrival, resting but also cleaning the boat and storing gear. I was alarmed by the discovery of these nasty, minuscule, monsters: the nats. You can barely see them yet they sting you with fury and soon your body is covered hundreds by round, red, dots that itch like poison ivy. The plan was to comeback with my parents, daughters, son, and wife on December 19 to sail Antares to MarchHarbor over the holidays. But I could not imagine how we were going to live in the boat with these voracious insects. The best one could do, I heard, was to apply baby oil.
From DC Carla took a plane to Paris and I went to Moscow for a few days to participate in a conference. The next few weeks I spent several hours planning for the comeback – getting the guys at the Marina to do some work on Antares, like applying a coat of varnish; buying presents and snorkeling gear; and looking at charts, tide tables, and guides to decide on our route from the West End to Marsh Harbor. I wanted to break the passage into, relatively, short and comfortable legs.
Natalia, the girls and I left Washington DC early on December 18 bound to Nassau. From there a small plane flew us to Marsh Harbor where we had to spend the night to take a plane to Free Port in the morning. It was after 6pm when we landed, all feeling tired and hungry. The ride from the airport to hour hotel was only 10 minutes though. So we dropped our bags and went to have dinner at the famous Wally’s restaurant across the road from Harbor View Marina. Highly recommended.
Our arrival to Marsh Harbor coincided with the arrival of a cold front. When we woke up the next day the wind was blowing from the north-west at 30+ Kt and it was cold. We went outside the back of our rental house and stayed there, not for long, watching the day come alive. It was quite a spectacle. The seas were agitated and crashed with force against the small breakwater that protects the resort, the wind was blowing-off the tops of the waves and bending the palm trees like straws. It was not the scenery that Natalia and the girls were expecting for their vacation; they wanted to make sure that we were not going to be sailing in those conditions.
I was worried that our flight to Free Port would be cancelled, but no. We took-off more or less as scheduled and landed 30 minutes later. The taxi from Free Port to West End takes close to one hour and has a set price of USD 75. The ride is over a narrow road, very well maintained, that crosses a few small “caserios.” The surrounding vegetation mainly bushes and palms.
We arrived to Old Bahama Bay marina at 11am and dropped the bags in the reception. A golf cart drove us to the T head were Antares was docked. The girls run to the boat calling their grandparents, “abuela, abuelo.” My parents surfaced from the cabin into the cockpit and climbed the ladder to the dock. They looked radiant standing there with their black and white hairs ruffled by the wind. They had arrived from Ecuador the previous night at low tide and the docks were in the dark. They had with them a small flash light though, and apparently had no problem finding the boat, going down the ladder, retrieving the key to open the companion way which I had hidden in a locker, and then finding their way in the cabin. They had had a good night of sleep and in the morning, not knowing yet how to operate the stove, went for breakfast at one of the restaurants in the marina.
We were scheduled to leave on December 23 bound to Great Salt Cay where we would spend Christmas at anchor. So we had time for the cold front to blow away and to prepare and provision the boat. The days and the water were cold though and we couldn’t really enjoy the beach and other amenities. Still, it was nice to be there all together and, strong winds also meant no nats! The marina reserved a car and driver to take us to small store in the West End free of charge. There we bought some food, beer, and water for the first two days (my father had imported two bottles of gin from Miami so we were all set in that front). The day before our departure we drove to Free Port for more serious shopping, including fresh meat of different types, a case of wine, and an old anchor.
The timing of our departure was perfect; the front had just passed and we had winds from East-North-East at 15-20 Kts. The plan was to cast-off the lines at 7:30am to take advantage of the high tide and cross the channel by Indian Cay, this time from the Atlantic into Little Bahama Bank. One of the other two sailing boats at the marina decided to come with us; the captain was a retiree from the military whose wife had just arrived the night before. The couple in the third boat were waiting for parts to repair the transmission. They came to say good-by that morning and helped us with the lines.
As soon as we left the breakwater Antares started to roll from gunwale to gunwale and everybody in the crew but my father became a bit seasick. It was not the best start of our sailing vacations. I motored south-west for 10 minutes and then headed directly towards Indian Rock. Once we entered the channel the motion improved. Our friends were following behind. For some reason though, this time I was more tense motoring in the very shallow waters and tried to avoid looking at the bottom of the sea through, essentially, transparent waters. I was relieved when we exited the channel and, with Natalia’s help, I hoisted the sails with one reef, set Constancia to steer the boat on a close reach in starboard tack, and shutdown the engine. The boat was not longer rolling but we were healing and going fast over the waves. My mother and Sofia were in the cockpit still not doing well. Mariana and Natalia were feeling better; Natalia even started to read a Russian magazine. My father was down below in the cabin helping with the navigation. By lunch time everybody seemed to have recovered and we enjoyed Natalia’s gourmet sandwiches and, us adults, a beer. I think we had a great passage. At around 4:30, some 8 hours after leaving the West End, we were anchoring on the west side of Great Salt Cay. To my surprise, the wind had subsided, the water was calm, and still no nats!
The guides tell you that there is nothing special about Great Salt Cay. I disagree. The small, deserted, somewhat mysterious cay is probably not beautiful but has a certain charm lying there alone, aloof, with its demure vegetation. We had a beautiful sunset over drinks and then “pasta oceana” for dinner. I have great memories of that first night at anchor and the days that followed.