Swing Set

Apr 18, 201308:43 AM

Swing Set: Cruising Full Time

Fox Town Little Abacos

There was quite a thunderstorm brewing on the morning we wanted to leave Port Lucaya Marina, but if I had the tides figured right, we needed to leave around noon to be at high tide when we got to the critical northern section of the Grand Lucayan Waterway. I'd decided that if we couldn't leave in time for a safe passage through the waterway, then we would stay another night and sit out the storm.

We had good WiFi at the dock, so I'd checked all my weather tools, not only for the current storm, but for the outlook for the next several days. I didn't expect to have any Internet service until we reached the western end of Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands. The current storm was fizzling out, and it looked like we would meet our intended departure time of noon. Meanwhile, I cleaned out the sea strainers on our main engines. There was a fair amount of grass and sea shells (little ones), giving credence to my suspicion that the starboard engine running hot was due to the debris in the strainers. I also checked engine coolant in both engines, and it was full. Engine oil was full, too. We were good to go.

First, we did a quick walk around the "town" to look for a loaf of bread. We wanted Bahamian bread but wound up buying a mass-produced loaf of wheat at a small grocery for $4, the going rate. We also had to dodge several hawkers standing out in front of the many restaurants wanting to know if we'd had our breakfast yet. I must be losing weight and looking skinny for them to be concerned with me having had a good meal lately. If I look skinny, Rosie must look emaciated.

We got back to the boat, and I went up to pay our bill and get a receipt for our fuel and dockage. They'd wanted to put us on a flat rate at $15 for electricity, but I opted for the metered rate, much to their chagrin. We used 6 kilowatt hours of electricity, which amounted to a big $3.60. Cha-ching! But the rest of the bill was close to $500. Still, I'll always opt for metered electric, as we don't use much, especially if we don't run the A/C, which we hadn't. In fact, we haven't run any heat or A/C since last September.

Patience is not a virtue I possess, and once the bill was paid and the sky cleared up, I wanted to head out and Rosie was ready, too. I figured even if we left early, we could poke along and wait for high tide in the waterway if we needed to. We followed the Bell Channel east for a couple of miles and entered the Grand Lucayan Waterway, a boondoggle project if there ever was one. The eight-plus-mile canal was dug to promote housing and resort construction right before the economy collapsed several years ago. There are huge concrete structures nearly completed, but abandoned. Lots of half-built houses, too. The early birds finished their homes, some of them humongous mansions, and they sit along the waterway all alone, surrounded by barbed wire and big dobermans.

There's one bridge to pass under, but it's over 27 feet high. The waterway is lined with a concrete wall on all sides, and most of it is intact. The canal is 250 feet wide on the lower end but narrows on the upper end, and the retaining walls end there.

In the picture, you can see the narrowing of the waterway. On the plus side, the depth on this upper end was sometimes 25 feet, but the bottleneck was at the opening to Dover Sound on the northern end. Even at our slow pace, we reached the northern end of the waterway as the tide had just started to come up. I wasn't too worried though, as I'd talked to a captain that morning at the marina that had traversed the cut at the upper end at low tide. He gave me a critical pointer about shoaling on the western side, and I felt we could make it through.

Bear in mind we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and running aground would be a major event, so we were both nervous as we slipped between the narrow channel markers with lots of brown showing on either side of the boat. "Brown, brown, run aground," is the mantra. We got past the last set of markers and commenced to follow the course I'd plotted out to reach Great Sale Cay. By the way, "cay" is pronounced "key," so if I say "bays and cays, it's not "bees and kees" but "bays" as in "days". Oh, forget it.

The other shallow-water transiting mantra is "white, white, you just might," as in, if you see white, it's usually shallow water with a sand bottom, but not always. The trick is knowing the difference. We got through the channel, and there was plenty of white showing directly in our path. I knew, or thought I knew, that both our chartplotters couldn't be wrong, but I generally avoided these big milky patches just in case. But, I initially suspected that some underlying current, or wind condition was just stirring up the bottom. I was close.

I later read in our Dozier's Waterway Guide that the phenomenon is called "fish muds." Great schools of Bonita, or other fish, congregate on the sea floor and stir up the loose mud, turning the ocean in those spots a milky white. I soon found myself just passing through these "fish muds" with ease. They look decidedly different than a shallow sand bottom, and since we were following a known route, I was content on following the information on the chart.

We were both feeling the affects of the crossover to Lucaya on the previous day, so even though we had a contingency plan to stop at Mangrove Cay on the way to Great Sale Cay, the contingency became a necessity when we realized that Great Sale was still three hours away and it was nearing 3 o'clock when we sighted Mangrove Cay.

Mangrove Cay is just a spit of land barely sticking up from the sea, but most of the Bahamas is like that. The one advertised anchorage on Active Captain is shown on the west side of the island, but even though winds were predicted to come from the east over night, the waves were coming from the south, and they were substantial enough for us to want to avoid them for a decent night's sleep. I poked our way north of the island and set a good hook on the northeastern side, where the water was calmer.

We hadn't set anchor since we left the U.S., and at first the anchor didn't want to leave the pulpit. If anchors could think, I'd understand, but as far as I know, they can't. With a little nudge from Rosie, the anchor finally plunged into the seven feet of water. When I tried to retrieve it, so Rosie could hook our floater on at the chain/rope juncture, the windlass would turn but wouldn't take up line. I left things as they were and decided to think about it  later, as if I had a choice. The matter troubled me through a quick dinner and early bedtime.

Before turning in, we got a call on the VHF. A sailboat heading west hailed us and wanted to know how much water we had under us. He also mentioned that in all his years he'd never seen a boat anchored on the side of the island we were on. He seemed impressed to learn that we had seven feet under us, but he decided to anchor in the known spot, even after I told him my logic for picking our spot. He was planning on an early 5 a.m. departure in the morning but might slip over and join us if things were bumpy on his side. We didn't hear from him, but our night was as calm as can be. Not a wave slapped our hull all night.

As is typical, my best thinking is done right when I wake up. Then, it's downhill from there. But on this particular morning, as I awoke, I realized what the problem was with the windlass. The little tension arm was not resting against the line and capstan where it enters the locker. I went forward and gave it a little poke and back it went. I finished the surgery with a squirt of WD-40. I wish all our problems were solved that easily.

Great Sale Cay was 20 some-odd miles to our east, and it was to be our next stop no matter what. I knew the weather would hold out at least until Thursday, and even though we had no way to get weather reports except on our AM radio, I was confident we could take our time in reaching the Abacos.

We cranked up the watermaker, which also was justifying the expense for it. Since our trial in the Dry Tortugas, I had some issues with the incoming line holding a pack into the watermaker and had to prime it with a pitcher of water every time I started it up. This was not an insurmountable problem, but just added to the inconvenience of running the thing. I suppose most watermakers are mounted closer to the water line, and while ours was in the "trunk" at the stern, it was a couple feet off the water.

If I learned anything in all my years at the beer factory, it was how to transfer liquids via a pump and how to pack a line. I began shutting off the inlet valve at the filter, which is mounted right next to the pump, when I shut down the watermaker. This prevented the water from venting from the incoming line, allowing the pump to stay primed upon startup. Sometimes, a quick valve switch from "circulate" to "run" is also needed, but it only takes a second until the air is out of the system and we start pumping. Currently, every time we are in transit, or running the generator, we make water, and fresh water showers are readily available. The circulating line from the starboard engine keeps the water in the water heater nice and hot without running the water heater itself.

 

Before hauling anchor, we plopped two hunks of pork roast into our small crock pot that we brought from our condo, but had never used. I had the bright idea that running the crock pot during a long transit would provide us with a quick hot meal upon arriving at an anchorage and would minimize the use of our generator to make dinner. I added a packet of pork gravy and requisite cup of water, along with some pepper, set it on low and let 'er rip.

Once we got under way, I set the throttles at 800 rpm and let Rosie take the helm. While she kept a sharp eye to the east, I set out two fishing rods in order to troll for dinner on our way to Great Sale Cay. On one rod, the cheap one from Wal-Mart, I had a fake shrimp and also left one of the two bobbers attached to the line. Don't ask why, as I don't know why. I'd never used our new rod and reel that we got from Gary and Judy's neighbor back in November in Cape Coral. I set it up and attached the nicest lure I have to it, one I got from Denny Heisler at our going away party almost a year ago.

We arrived at Great Sale Cay after a very pleasant cruise. However, nothing struck our lines, at least as far as I knew. The bobber and lure was missing from the Wal-Mart rod, but our Ugly Stick, Penn reel and high-dollar lure were still intact. Good thing I know how to find locals selling fresh fish and lobster...I mean "summer crabs."

No one else was at anchor when we pulled into the northwestern harbor at Great Sale. We bypassed the advertised anchorage and snuck into much shallower water, where we had more protection from any southeastern winds that were predicted to come later in the week, if we decided to stay a few days. We were in grass, but I dove down on the anchor, and it was deep. I've discovered that anchoring in grass will work if you get the anchor set deep in it. We were in a similar bottom during the 35-mph blow in Key West and didn't move an inch. I also considered the direction we would drag to if we did drag, and it was to open water. No big deal. I also gave a quick look to our running gear and thought I saw some small barnacles on the exhaust housings, so a dive in the morning seemed necessary.

While we ate like royalty upon our slow-cooked pork and candied yams, over a dozen other vessels made their way into the harbor. All of them packed together around the one Active Captain advertised spot. Either it was the herd mentality at work, or we were in water too shallow for the other boats. Could've been both dynamics at work. We cranked up some Neil Young and took the picture above. Later, we popped in a DVD and watched a movie.

The next morning, we were up early after a cool, pleasant night. After a quick breakfast, I grabbed my mask and took another look at our running gear. Although some paint had come off of the exhaust housings and shafts, the trim tabs and trim tab bodies all retained their newly applied paint, and the hull didn't have a spot on it where the paint had come off or where any sea life had taken up residence. What I thought was barnacles, well, wasn't. This made me happy.

We'd hoped for an Internet connection at Great Sale, and we did get an occasional signal, enough to download email and get a quick report on Windfinder, but the anchorage wasn't as nice as we'd envisioned, so we picked a spot to the east and headed to it. I wasn't too comfortable with just a forecast from the radio station in Nassau for our travel planning. Fox Town, with its 200-foot BaTelCo tower on the Island of Little Abacos, was our intended target, just about 27 miles due east.

I left the rods in their holders for this transit but didn't deploy any line. As we left Great Sale, I'd planned to take a shortcut route south of the island, which was shown on our Garmin Bluechart Mobil chart, but it was not showing on the dash-mounted Garmin 640 chart. The app on the iPad had us traversing solid ground when we came through the Lucayan Waterway, and the 640 was right on, so I tended to agree with the dash-mounted plotter and took a course further south before heading east again. This made the route longer, but not as long as if we had gone aground.

As we neared Little Abacos, I realized that the Garmin 640 charts were not as up to date as the app on the iPad. The Garmin Bluechart app was showing details that the other one didn't have. They both agreed in terms of GPS location with our in dash Raymarine unit. For the approach to Fox Town, I decided to rely on the Bluechart app, having surveyed the route on the Explorer Chart earlier that morning. Details on the Bluechart app were visible in person.

If you're on a computer and can blow this photo up, you can see the rocks that line the harbor entrance, along with the wrecks. We were extremely nervous coming in, but we kept a close eye on the depthfinder, a tool that's always the determining factor in any situation. The water is so clear that it was hard to tell by looking at it just how deep it was, but we held at nearly eight feet all the way in. Fox Town came into view on our right as I again bypassed the Active Captain anchorage and made our way over a largely sand bottom and snuggled closer in to Hawksbill Cay, just across from town.

 

Rosie hooked our floater onto the chain/line connection. We were in seven feet of crystal-clear water with plenty of protection from anything but a westerly blow. We had an excellent Internet connection, some stores and restaurants nearby, and plenty of snorkeling opportunities. We knew we could stay here for a few days and let our finances catch up with our expenses with no problem at all.

You may have missed it from an earlier post, but some may wonder about our use of the "floater" on our anchor rode. The floater is a small fender attached to a short stainless cable with a snap on the end in order to clip it to the last link on the chain before the rope splice. We only have 25 feet of chain, and we don't want the chain/rope splice to contact a sand, or rocky bottom. The float keeps the splice off of the bottom and is easy to deploy. I later dove down on our anchor to not only confirm a good hold, but to check on the effect the float was having on our rode and found it to be satisfactory. Enough about that.

We took a short nap and then dropped the dinghy to go exploring. We're far enough from town to escape prying eyes, but just a short dinghy ride away. We can also see the boat from the one restaurant we'll go to if we go at all.

The shore of Fox Town is lined with rocks, big rocks. Four huge boulders sit as sentinels guarding the entrance to the two fuel docks and the government dock. I use the term "dock" loosely here. There's not much to them. We motored over to Shell fuel dock, where the restaurant Da Valley is located. We were told to park our dinghy at a rickety ladder leading to the deck of a building next door, but we were not planning on staying just then. We just wanted to case out the terrain and ask if we could bring our pet to Da Valley. "Of course, mon," came the reply, as if we were crazy to ask. The guy we asked had directed us into the dock at the fuel station and the restaurant. He had a cute puppy with him, all white with a solid black circle around his left eye. I didn't take a picture, but perhaps later. The small pink scabs covering the puppy were a little disconcerting, however, and a mental note was made for us to keep precious Holly at a distance if we made shore.

We secluded ourselves back on the boat, putting on the stereo and relaxing in the cockpit, taking an occasional dip in the ocean and keeping an eye on the horizon for other boats coming into the harbor for the night as they made their way east to the more popular Spanish Cay. We kept hearing them on the VHF, but no one stopped. We'd defrosted two more of our "summer crabs," and I made a pot of spaghetti. We topped the spaghetti with a butter, garlic and lemon sauce, along with a nice "crab" on top. Don't forget the Parmesan. That was some good eating.

Fox Town isn't mentioned by anyone on Active Captain, and no fuel stop is advertised there. The Abacos Guide and Bahamas Waterway Guide do mention it, but I think the rocks and shallow water scare most travelers away. Our friends Denny and Reggie have visited the restaurant here, so we'll have to try it for their sake. We might wait until Friday, or when we can see anyone else at the place, using our binoculars. We don't want to be the only patrons in the joint like we were at Sherri's in Bimini.

I've already made routes to the next two stops, both cays on the Sea of Abaco. Both anchorages are secluded with no services, but only eight to 10 miles from here, so Internet service should be OK. For now, we have an iffy weather forecast ahead of us, but we have plenty of fuel, are making our own water, and have plenty of food and beverages...although the Bud Light supply is looking slim. My plan of two beers a day for each of us is as laughable now as it was when I made it. I'll check back in when we have another story to tell.

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