I m writing from Antares’ navigation table while at anchor at Meeks Patch. It is, indeed, a small patch at the north west end of Eleuthera, our final destination. We have prevailing winds blowing from the east so we dropped the hook on the west side, right off the beach. We won’t be able to visit though because the dinghy’s outboard stopped working today. I tried cleaning the spark plug (I don’t have a spare) but to no avail. Still, the anchorage is beautiful with 7 feet of smooth turquoise water and, although it seems it is usually busy, today there is only one other boat far away on our port side. In a couple of hours I will uncork a bottle of Champagne that we had reserved to celebrate our arrival to Eleuthera. For dinner we have dauphin (the fish not the mammal), now marinating.
This time it’s only Natalia and me. We left DC last Friday, April 22 bound to Nassau. There we took a small plane to Marsh Harbor where Antares was waiting at Harbor View Marina. I was anxious to see her after almost 4 months ! She was in good shape after the long separation although parts of the varnish in the rails had started to crack, rust was accumulating in a few places (including the spoke of the wooden wheel which I should have stored inside), and there was some mold in the ceilings in the cabin and V berth. We did some quick, basic, cleaning that day, dealt with work e-mails and phone calls, and then got ready to receive our first sunset in the islands with drinks in the cockpit. Dinner followed at Wally’s, across the street. We like that place. Probably more expensive than it should be but the sea food is quite good; fresh products and delicate sauces.
We spent Saturday and Sunday provisioning, cleaning, and preparing Antares for the cruise and passage to Eleuthera. Items included changing the automatic bilge pump (it wouldn’t stop running), fixing a couple of navigation lights (which had me crunched inside the anchor locker) and adjusting the back stay. Some might ask why don’t I simply charter boats that are ready upon arrival to the places I want to visit, loaded with food, liquor, and wine. It is simply not the same.
Marsh Harbor has, of course, everything you need. We found fresh staples at Maxwells and an ample selection of wines at Jimmy’s Wines and Spirits. The service there is simply excellent. The manager made us discover a new (to us) local beer, High Rock, that is produced in the West End by the Sands family. The water there is, apparently, more uniform and predictable which gives consistency to the beer. We liked it more than Kalik which is produced by the Common Wealth Brewery in Nassau, with lower quality water. At the end, the manager helped us bring our two wine cases and beer to the boat.
The only problem in Marsh Harbor was propane. I didn’t realize that the only place that refills tanks is closed on Saturdays afternoon. Alas, we had to delay our departure until Monday. We castoff our lines by 9:30am and headed to Tillo Cay our first destination.
The main challenge was negotiating the shallows with Antares’ 5.4 draft. To avoid passing through Lubbers quarters and Tillo Cay we took the west route, along Great Abacos’ east coast. It is less frequented because it has not much to offer but there is more water there. We motor-sailed most of our way to be able to pass at high tide between Pepper Cay and the sand banks to the east. In retrospective, I don’t think it was necessary. As soon as we got into deeper waters we turned-off the engine and continued with full sail. We anchored on the south of Tillo Cay and spent the rest of the day in the boat catching up with some work but otherwise reading and enjoying the surroundings. I was in charge of dinner: pasta carbonara.
The next day we left early headed to Little Harbor, also wanting to arrive at high-tide to negotiate the entrance. As you head south through the narrow passage between Great Abacos and the Cays, the Atlantic starts to make you feel his presence. The swells were moderate but large enough to make Natalia a bit worried about the passage to Eleuthera. With apprehension as it was not yet high tide, we entered Little Harbor at 10am and picked up a mooring. It was Natalia’s first and it only took us three tries. We both liked the place; a small crick protected from the south and west by an elevation of black and gray rocks frugal in vegetation. To the east is the beach that houses Pete’s Pub, workshop, and gallery. After a cold High Rock we put the dinghy in the water and went ashore.
We visited the gallery that exposes Pete’s bronze sculptures of sea life. Natalia appreciated the technique but was not inspired by the art. I was drawn to a small one depicting a scene from the Old Man and the Sea — a rugged fisherman in a frail skiff with sharks eating the hard-fought giant swordfish. It was priced at over USD 2,000 though so it stayed there. From the gallery we went to the bar and ordered two Bloody Mary’s. Very appropriate after having seen the sculpture inspired by Hemingway’s’ book. The bartender, a women in her 40s from Hope Town, told us the story of the place. Apparently, Pete’s father Randolph Johnston, a sculptor himself, was shipwrecked there at the turn of the century with his wife and the little Pete. They survived in a cave in the crick (which she suggested we visit and later we did) for several months and eventually started to build a house. Pete still lives there with his, now adult, children who manage the pub and restaurant. After finishing our BMs we went for a walk on the beach on the Atlantic side. The sea was at peace over the the horizon but still broke with force over the reef. A beautiful scenery except for the shocking amount of garbage that is accumulating on the beach, presumably spit there with disgust by the ocean.
We stayed in Little Harbor for two perfect days. On the third day we had to wait for high-tide until 11am before starting our passage to Eleuthera. We debated about whether to leave at midnight the previous day, anchor outside Little Harbor, and start the passage early in the morning in order to arrive to Eleuthera in daylight. This would have been a must if we were headed to Ridley Head. Instead we decided to make landfall to the south west of Egg Island, which could be done safely at night. So after breakfast we just waited. Antares was all ready wearing her yellow jack lines with Constancia, the wind-vane, dangling under the wind.
We exited the crick, as we came, with apprehension as it was not high tide yet. Outside, we sailed north east for half a mile and then turned sharply south east to go through Little Harbor Cut into the Atlantic. After another one and a half miles I set course towards Egg Island and engaged Constancia. We had only 10 Knots of wind and the seas, including in the cut, were calm. It was an uneventful and fast passage aided by a strong current that sets towards the west-south-west. In fact, one needs to be careful not to let the current drive you too far to the west. I now see that Antares was pushed up to five miles away from the rhumb line. Eventually, I had to correct and head to the south-east.
This was Natalia’s first, albeit short, ocean passage. She read most of the way until around sunset (7:30pm) when we saw the outlines of Eleuthera, Egg Island, and Little Egg Island. As we approached we rolled the genoa and gave Constancia a break. Even after the sun had gone under, we had a enough light. We could see a couple of boats anchored towards the the south-west side of Egg Island and they became our target. By 8:30pm we were approaching the anchorage and Natalia doused the main. We still had some light to be able to see the other boats. I dropped the anchor at a safe distance in around 10 feet of water. We were protected from the trades that had started to pick up but there was quite some current and I could feel the pressure on chain and windlass. I went forward and tied two snub lines. In the mean time Natalia prepared dinner, the same delicious rice with chicken that we had had for Christmas night. This time we set the table inside the cabin for a formal and romantic dinner…
For a change, the next day, Natalia decided to prepare a pot of real coffee using our French press. Most of the time this is how we prepare coffee in the boat. But since she usually drinks tea I didn’t want to use the press just for me and had been drinking instant coffee from Starbucks instead. She found this shocking. After coffee we left the anchorage not knowing where to go next. One option was Royal Island Harbor but I was not very enthusiastic as it seems that some famous football star is building there a new resort. We opted for an anchorage north-east of Current Cut but mid-way we changed course towards Meek Path where we are now. I am going to stop writing and join Natalia in the cockpit and enjoy the sunset while drinking a gin & tonic. Will see next…
I am now writing from the Cigar Bar at the Le Gray hotel in Beirut where I’ve come for businesses, this time alone. Quite a different setting. I left last weekend and stopped first in Tunis. The ocean has been close in both places but at the same time very, very far.
After Meek Patch we headed straight to Yatch Heaven Marina in Spanish Wells where I had reserved a slip. I almost run aground when entering the narrow channel – I cut the turn to port too sharp – but at the end made it safely. The marina has been completed renovated, the showers are brand new, and they have a very good open bar and restaurant. That day we rented a gulf cart to explore. It is essentially a fishing town, very industrial, but there are beautiful beaches. Most of the residents are decedents of Englishmen who settled the Island during the American Revolution and speak English with a contagious accent. We crossed into Russel Island and went to the Sand Bar for drinks. From there back to the marina where we met our neighbors, a family who had been cruising the Exumas for the last 4 months. They gave us plenty of hints about places to visit and even a set of charts that will come handy when we go back there over the summer. That night we had dinner at the Shipyard Restaurant – a charming place in from of the ocean that I highly recommended.
We spent the final day of our vacation working on Antares. We cleaned the boat inside-out and applied oil to the teak in the cabin. We left the next day very early in the morning (there is a service that for USD 30 tackles two people directly to the airport in Northern Eleuthera).
Just last night I called the marina to check on Antares and coordinate some work that needs to be done – including fixing again the mast and deck lights that stopped working when we got to Egg Island. Antares also needs some bottom paint. But, otherwise, they tell me that she is doing well. I am already planning the next leg of the trip that will take us to George Town in Exumas. My daughters and I will travel on July 21st to Spanish Wells for a 21 days cruise. I m looking forward…