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Click to Enlarge Pictures
6th Abaco Trip Departure 2002
Tarpon Fishing - Charlotte Harbor
First of Five Locks
Dead Trees - Lake Okeechobee
Rolland Martin Marina - Clewiston
Weird Sign #1 East Coast ICW -Read
Weird Sign #2 East Coast ICW -Read
View from Room - Pirates Cove
Sunrise at St. Lucie Inlet
Old Bahama Bay Marina-West End
Customs, West End, Grand Bahama
Small Boat Arrival, West End
Debbie & Sandy Arrive W.E.
West End Sunset
My Home Away From Home
View from Villa at G.T.C.
View from Villa at Sunset
380 Lb Blue Marlin
Mahi Mahi Mother Load
Yes, Manatees in the Bahamas!
Sidney's Fishing Boat
Abaco Water Color
Green Turtle Ocean Beach
Sandy, Brendal, Debbie, BJ, & ??
Lobster must be taken by hand. The
Spear was just a convient carrier.
A Frequent Beach Picnic Companion at a picnic. Note my shadow.
He's Looking for scraps too
My Newest Home Away From Home
Tiki Hut at Abaco Inn
Little Harbour Entrance from Dock
Pete's Pub - Little Harbour
Elbow Cay Castle Home
Home Town Cemetery
Hope Town Light Housee
Hope Town Post Office
Poor Old Lilly's House - Story
Miami Dolphin Sea Plane
Motu Iti at Abaco Inn Dock
Common Starfish (Borrowed)
Put Yourself here with a Friend
Late Afternoon Squall
Bahama Courtesy Flag or Cruising Pennant. To be flown once clearing Customs.
This website has been entirely developed, designed and created by its author.
1993 was my first trip to Abacoby boat aboard my 29' Phoenix,
my first Motu Iti.
...."I realize people do this regularly but there is no time like the first time. Sort of like your first kiss, if all goes well a memory to be cherished"
A simple account of that memorable trip can be found by clicking here.
1997 saw our fourth trip to Abaco this time aboard my 34' Catalina Islander.
"my wife told me not to look back. So, naturally I did and saw a wave breaking behind us - Yikes!" An account of that month long trip can be found by clicking here.
The 3 MOTU ITI's
- Picts -
Longboat Key to Green Turtle Cay, Abaco Bahamas - Solo Round Trip
by Sandy Estabrook
and and from there onto Hope Town Harbour Lodge on Elbow Cay. From these two places we could cover Marsh Harbour and all of the surrounding cays. I was also expecting my sister and her husband to fly in for five days, but what I didn't know, was the surprise visit of my two college age kids.
(Early in the year 2000 my 5th Abaco Trip) I have been planning this trip for a while but unlike previous trips I planned to go it alone - round trip. My wife of that time was to join me at the Green Turtle Club
Taking the liberty, I will inject parts of previous trips that seem pertinent. Also and especially a second, almost parallel, six week trip in 2002 in the same boat but this time as a single man along my girl friend Debbie. (Any such insertions will be in magenta). For more information about the Abacos in general, see Sandy's Guide to the Abacos.
As mentioned in earlier trip critiques. Half the fun is in the planning. With this, my 5th trip, the planning actually included the purchase of the boat, my 3rd MOTU ITI. In previous trips we were aboard twin engine flybridge cabin boats. Aside from the fact, that things can get a bit cramped on extended cruises even aboard 34 foot accommodations, there was always something missing. That which only a smaller boat can provide. Closeness to the water, and to be able to run about, once in the Abacos. It had to be larger than an inflatable yet still able to explore the nooks and crannies of the many cays and pull up on a beach. And most importantly, it had to be reasonably fast and rugged enough to to run 30-40 miles in a chop and again large enough to get me to the Bahamas in 3 to 5 footers in relative safety in the first place. For the difference in price of the boat of its size as compared to 36-42 footers I could stay in one of the many inns or rental cottages and plan on similar trips a multitude of times.
The boat I chose was a Glacier Bay 2670 Island Runner. It's a 26 foot displacement hull catamaran powered by 2- 130hp 4/stroke Hondas. With its 180 gallon fuel tank we had a safe cruising range of close to 250 Miles at about 22 - 23 knots. I chose this boat because of the many articles I've read about this boat on extended ocean cruises (Norfolk/Bermuda, Oahu/Midway, St. Pete Fl/ New Jersey etc.). It's single greatest feature is handling heavy weather. For a boat it's size, I would say this 26 footer can easily go where 40 footers go in the same conditions (as I would later find out). The boat has a king size bed and a marine head the two of which occupy about 70% of the cabin space (one of the tradeoffs of a catamaran). Understand sleeping on this boat is only when necessary.
Back to the planning: I've have seen numerous small 18 - 24 foot O/B craft in the Abaco's that have made their way here from Florida (see picture below), so I had little concern in taking a 26 footer. Besides this was to be my 5th cruise over. Adding to safety consideration was departing later than my usual time. May is less busy, buggy and has fewer rain squalls (or so I thought) so mid May was chosen. Impatience got the best of me and I departed a week ahead of my original scheduled date.
Day One. As mentioned, excitement took over and I left a week earlier than planned. This would allow me an extra week of gunk hauling before my ex arrived. I departed Longboat Key heading for the Tween Waters Inn a laid back marina on Captiva for the first night. In route I poked around in the Charlotte harbour entrance to watch the Tarpon fishing for a while. There were quite a few being caught. At around three I arrived. I checked into my room and later that evening enjoyed a dinner at their lovely restaurant. Again, I should point out, it was not my plan to sleep on the boat (no A/C) except when I had to.
Thursday morning I awoke early and headed up the Caloosahatchie River and it's three locks to the Roland Martin Marina in Clewiston. I noticed a cute new marina on the down river side of the first lock called Jack's Marina. I think if the situation presented itself I might stay there one time. Even on this my fifth trip up the river, I'm still taken with the scenery along it's banks. My only apprehension was; would there be any problem single handling my boat and grabbing the lines going through the locks. I dealt with this by grabbing the two lines one in each hand and standing in the middle of the boat. - Piece of cake. I know now why God gave us two hands. I also found out there is no official policy in this regard. It's at the lock mans discretion.
After passing through the Lock at Morehaven and entering the perimeter canal on Lake Okeechobee, I noticed all the trees on the inside of the lake were dead. I mean all of them with an occasional still green tall bush or shrub mixed in. The devastation looked like the aftermath of a forrest fire.
The devastation extended on for miles around the whole lake. I saw some fisherman along the way and pulled up to ask, what happened? I was informed that they were purposely poisoned and that the outer side of the canal was also scheduled. As it turns out the trees, Australian pines, are not indigenous to the area and killing them is part of the major undertaking to restore the lake and its flow of water to the Everglades. My question is; are they to be removed? How they would remove them would be immeasurably more than a major undertaking, so this writer suspects they will let them rot which one would think is just as bad. Anyway I'm not sure what the plan is and will make no comment. But rest assured the environmentalists are on top of it.
From Morehaven, it's about a half hour to the Roland Martin Marina and bass fishing capital of Florida. I fueled up (80 gal since Sarasota), checked in to my room and made a dinner reservation at the old Clewiston Inn. The Clewiston Inn is a must see "old Florida place" whether passing through Clewiston by boat or car. It was build in the late thirties by the sugar barons who required upscale accommodations for their business clientele. I always eat there when passing through and the costs are very reasonable.
Friday it is off to Stuart, my embarkation point to the Bahamas, This is a short leg but prudence prevents one from crossing to West End in the afternoon as that is the time when storms kick up. As it turned out I arrived at noon after an eight o'clock departure. Being so early I shot out into the ocean to check it out. It was beautiful and to think tomorrow was forecast to be even better! Just the same I was tempted to make a run for West End, only three and a half hours away but turned back in the St. Lucie Inlet and pulled into the Pirates Cove Marina (my first time there). It's a bit closer to the inlet than the Indian River Plantation where I've stayed before. It also has accommodations - a definite consideration. It's quite a lively spot that bases a fleet of sport fishing boats has a jumping bar and nice restaurant.
I should point out, when staying at marinas with hotels attached, special rates apply to dockage when staying in a room - usually around 50% which translates into about a dollar a foot.
The boat is equipped with a Lowrance GPS and depth gauge / fish finder and B & G auto pilot and VHF radio of course. In addition I'll have backup hand held VHF & GPS units. A lap top was brought along for the keeping of my daily log and picking up E-Mail (at selected locations). It also included navigation software which could optionally be plugged into my GPS network should I choose. Oh yes, I had an EPIRB which was lent to be by a close friend. (EPIRB -Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons)
It would have been nice to have brought my cell phone but Florida cellular phone companies did not work in the Bahamas without special arrangement due to the many hot phones floating around. (2000). If you use your cell phone it will be transferred to an operator which will ask for a Visa/MC credit card number to which the call can be billed. I was told since there service is analog not digital, never give your Credit Card number over the air this way as you will find some surprises on your next bill. I suspect the problem has more to do with Batelco's own administration because on my first trip to the Bahamas, I had one of the original 5 watt cell phones which worked sporadically but never got billed for any of the calls made.
I packed enough provisions to accommodate our three weeks for breakfast, periodic picnic lunches and an occasional dinner. If I have a lucky day fishing, I have one of those stainless Magma dome type propane cooker aboard the boat for this purpose. It can plug in a rod holder or has a stand for use on the deck of our villa. I have a an electric cooler and a conventional (ice) type aboard which will primarily be used just for transport of perishables, to our cottage in the Abacos. When you take your boat on vacation, you can store all sorts stuff on it one wouldn't dare think of packing in a suitcase.
Charts: Route Chart from Florida, - Green Turtle Cay, - Elbow Key (Hope Town)
Day Four: As usual I was up at 5 AM to make ready for my departure. As daylight proceeds arrival of the sum by a half hour, I caught (photographically) the rising sun just as I passed through the St. Lucie inlet at 6:30. As predicted the seas were calm at this point but eventually rose to 3-4 in the Gulf Stream. The 67 NM trip to the Old Bahama Bay Marina at West End Grand Bahama took 3 hrs. and 20 min. I did not touch the steering once, which is a testimonial to B&G especially in the slop of the gulf stream. I cleared customs and fueled up (84 gallons since Clewiston) all within an Hour! Not wanting to spend Saturday night in West End, I decided to push off across the Little Bahama Bank for Green Turtle Cay, five hours away.
About a half hour out, I noticed some thunder squalls ahead of me. I proceeded anyway until the lightning and thunder were only separated by three seconds so I made a quick u-turn back to West End. Then out of nowhere another squall formed in front me. It just appeared out of nowhere blocking my route back. Fortunately no lightning was associated with it. I got the canvas up in a hurry and even got to try out my windshield wiper for the first time. Actually it is quite useful. However, the rain was so heavy, I just sat it out. In about 10-15 minutes it passed. In retrospect it was quite nice sitting out on the bank in flattened water by the rain squalls all about (just as long as there is no lightning).
Mariners Note: (2000) As part of the new marina renovations at Old Bahama Bay, they opened up the old commercial entrance to the marina. It faces to the east or the ocean side and shoals abruptly. Depending on wind direction, waves can really pile up at its entrance as they were this day with the wind out of the south west. As a result when heading back out of the marina to make my bank crossing. I buried my bow somewhat, taking water over the cabin and up and over my windshield. It was only a momentary thing and nothing serious. The point I want to bring out is, the old Jack Tarr marina entrance faced north on the bank side, which provided greater protection from the seas. Unfortunately they filled it in as part of their new renovation. A silly mistake. If this was done to accommodate very large boats (80'+) they still could have left open the old entrance for the smaller fellows.
West End is the closest point to Florida from Palm Beach and points north. Bimini is actually closer but from points farther south like Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. But that would take you in a route not practical for getting to the Abaco's. West End's port of entry is on the western end of Grand Bahama about 2 miles from the village and about 20 miles from Freeport. The Custom House and marina reside in what was the old Jack Tarr Marina and is now undergoing major renovation (2000). The marina docks were new upon my arrival but electricity has not been installed at all slips but should be by July. Also the toilets are still the original from the Jack Tarr days and in poor repair. Sadly, they seem to be in no hurry to replace them. Although there appeared to be no recent building activity, the shells of new villas have been erected but seemed to have stopped. Talking to a couple of local folks, they told me work has slowed down lately because of lack of advanced sales.
2002 Crossing: The weather takes a turn for the worse despite favorable forecasts. I should have left yesterday. After our 5:30 wake up call it was off to the St. Lucie Inlet under cloudy skies for our 67 mile Bahama crossing. We passed through the inlet and were already experiencing 3-5 with no telling what it would be be like in the gulf stream. So we did an abrupt WRUT (weather related u-turn). We headed back to where the East Coast ICW meets the Caloosahatchee and hung a left and headed south on the overly no-waked-zoned ICW to Palm Beach to hang out for the day. From W.P.B., the run is seven miles closer to the Bahamas - little consolation.
In route, I ran aground a second time. I didn't mention the first, did I? Anyway, just beyond that spot there was waiting a red TowBoatUS boat. It was not a coincidence. I just lifted my engines, motored off the shoal and waved good bye to the boat captain. A great feeling.. We pulled into the Sailfish Marina at the Lake Worth Inlet by 10:00 AM on Wednesday! - Adjacent to us were two couples in a 31 Sea Ray also Bahama bound (for their 1st time) and looking for a buddy boat. Being hole up for a 2nd day, they welcomed our conversation and tips on the Bahamas.
The Sailfish Marina is right at the Lake Worth Inlet in Palm Beach Shores just across the inlet from the real Palm Beach and across the ICW from W.P.B.. The water here is almost Bahamian in clarity, but docking there can be tricky as the tide rips right across the slips. If you can, try to arrive at slack tide as we unintentionally did. Like our previous stop, The marina caters to sports fisherman and charter fleets but usually has slips off season. It sports a ships store restaurant and bar. More importantly in our case, they have nicely furnished rooms and efficiencies.
The following day, a quick walk to the ocean side told us that despite dissipating clouds, the seas hadn't let up. So Deb & I were forced to spend another day there. Just the same we gassed up and stuck our nose out in the sea, - Yikes!
Palm Beach Shores is a community of moderately priced old style Fla. homes which has only recently been discovered (late 90's). There is a frequently scheduled water taxi service at our marina to downtown. In addition there the bridge connecting it to the mainland. There are 3-4 restaurants within walking distance including a roof top Best Western on the ocean side four blocks away. All in addition to the marinas offerings.
Thursday is a happening day, in this area. We had to decide whether to take the water taxi and partake in the weekly street festival downtown W.P.B. in the Clematis district or the competing vendor fair right at the marina. We chose the latter, but were later told we should have gone to town. - Next time.
Friday: It was bright and sunny and the seas were still a little bumpy. We ventured out at 6:30 with the folks we met in the slip next to us and by 9:30 were in West End Grand Bahama. It seem like every boat in Palm Beach pulled in right after us to clear Customs. One boat, with it's two soaked occupants caught my attention (boat 1 in picture). They were in an 22 foot open flats Twin Vee cat with 2 foot gunnels. They told me they got beat to hell having to keep up with their buddies in a little more substantial boat (boat 2 in picture). Motu Iti. is 3rd.
Having filled out the five pages of paperwork on previous trips, we knew the procedure beating the others clearing customs. Debbie & I decided to hang out at West End for a day and enjoy the newly renovated Old Bahama Bay Marina as its now called. Although I didn't see any hotel like building I asked,Do have rooms for rent? Yes, we do rent the condos at $325 an night! That meant we'd be spending a night on the boat! By late afternoon the marina was full. The weekenders just arrived from Florida having left work early. Most of the boats were in the forty to sixty foot range. We took a pass on their dining room and ate out on the point at the Tiki Hut accompanied by a calypso band. The Tiki Hut is adjacent to a classic photo perfect crescent white sand beach punctuated underwater by starfish and conch. More about Old Bahama Bay on our return trip.
Saturday night (2000) actually turned out to be quite enjoyable after all. I was told by the captain of another boat of a newly renovated restaurant (sort of) in West End village at the Harbour Hotel. I arrived there about 6 PM It's a small native inn with restaurant, lively bar, pool and marina with about 14 slips for small boats and fuel. All the slips were full with boats in the 21 to 28 foot size. All were from Florida on some informal fishing tournament. Lots of fish were being caught, so many that they were passing them out to the many native folk from the village that gathered. I saw Wahoo, Dolphin, Tuna, Snapper and Kingfish. At sunset the boats were still pulling in as I decided to eat. I dinned on the broiled seafood combo; cracked conch, grouper and lobster tail and I even had a baked potato. Yes, peas and rice would have been served should I have not asked for the options. (Peas and rice is the staple side dish when not choosing French fries. The preferred cooking method- fried. Watching your diet in the Bahamas - Almost Impossible). I would recommend staying at Harbour Hotel (2000) if you need a room and you have small boat. They're are on the bank side of the island and 3 feet draft would be the max (as I was told). Access is tricky so be sure to use your charts and or guide books. Better yet, when checking in at Customs at West End, ask someone around the marina there.
Day 5, I made the 100 NM trek across the little Bahama Bank (10-20 feet depth) to the Green Turtle Club in the Abacos in a little under five hours and arrived at noon. I settled in to our water side rented cabin on White Sound rather quickly, with the help of a "Tipsy Turtle" and plan to enjoy leisure days poking around the islands while awaiting for my ex to arrive.
White Sound, Green Turtle Cay. That's Motu Iti in front of the second house from the left.
Every year in May, up until 2002, the G.T.C. has had an annual fishing tournament. It was part of a circuit of tournaments run by some of the resorts throughout the islands. Well as it often happens I arrived durng the event. It's quite lively especially around 4 to 5 PM when the boats arrive back at dockside during this three day event. And if you hang out at the cleaning tables and look forlorn, you could wind up with a fish dinner as was the case for me. The odds are in your favor.
Inspired by the catches, I decided to give it a shot the following day. I came home with three kingfish and a yellow fin tuna! All of which were on lures or feathers. Despite the excitement, what was I going to do with all the fish? I had no freezer only a very small refrig in my room which was already filled with perishables. My ice chest on the boat filled as it should be with beer and soda. So it was like the night before only this time I was not the receiver, but the giver.
Day 8, I realized I desperately needed a can opener, some lettuce and bread, plus I had an urging for some fresh conch salad. So with all that as an excuse, early in the week I made a trip to Marsh Harbour for the aforementioned plus fuel where it is cheaper. After fueling, I ate lunch at the Conch Inn. This occasion would also afford me the opportunity to send some E-mail as the lines on G.T. are poor at best.
On my return I passed by Great Guana Cay and noticed a new establishment called Orchid Bay Marina and was happy to see a big bright red Texaco sign. Only a few years ago I motored to Guana from G.T. in a small rented outboard with only six a gallon tank, only to find out there was no place on the island to buy gas for my return. That required a trip to Treasure Cay to fill up before returning to G.T. I also noticed the erection of a large Shell Oil sign at Guana Key Resort. There is nothing like a little competition.
Passing Guana Cay to G.T. via the inside of the infamous Whale Cay Passage I notice a shadowy outline in about 20 feet of water. Something forward of it but attached was shiny and reflected brightly at the surface. As I approached slowly I noticed the blackened hull of a large boat about 40 feet. The shiny reflections were from its bow pulpit completely intact. My guess it somehow caught fire. I didn't hang around to examine it closely because of the swells and the nauseating feeling one gets when looking at a dead animal. I can say this was in an area that one might expect to see something like this but not because of fire.
Manatees! During my stay I kept hearing repeated stories of a pair of Manatees being spotted in the Abacos. I heard this a couple of years back and wrote it off as a fluke. But this year I heard first hand from a couple folks who spotted them at Man-O-War Cay. And as recently as last Christmas (2000) they were spotted at Coco Bay here on Green Turtle Cay. How they got here is unknown but some speculate it has something to do with El Nino - what else? Whether they will remain or hang around or head back to Florida is anybody's guess. I just cant imagine Manatees swimming across 60 miles of ocean and Gulf Stream to get to the Bahamas and another 100 miles to the Abacos.
Our cottage is situated on White Sound facing west and the Bluff House property. At its north end are the G.T.C. offices, restaurant and marina. Also in front of us across the harbour is Sidney's fishing boat. It's a vintage wooden hulk now sunk with its upper quarter sticking out of the water. Actually we had seen it last year. As it turns out, it sprung a leak while tied up at the Bluff House Docks. Sidney was up and his home in Grand Cay at the time so the marina folks installed some auxiliary pumps to keep his boat afloat. Then called Sidney. After a few days and numerous calls and no effort by Sidney to deal with the problem. They moved his boat and anchored it in the harbour where it eventually sank. It remained a distinguishing landmarks in White Sound until it was towed out to sea.
Day 10- Friday evening I planned to go to the Bluff House for dinner and to see old friends Julie and Chris who used to manage the Green Turtle Club. Upon Arrival at their dock a couple of fellows greeted my by saying What's the matter? Cant you afford a good boat? I took a look at theirs and noticed theirs was a World Cat (brand catamaran). And in addition to theirs there were four more! Before long they all came over to chat about my Glacier Bay and compare notes.
I will always remember that night as there sat at my table at dinner, an old timer, I'd say in his mid 70's (his name escapes me). He was a distinguished looking man with white hair and a slightly pink face, no doubt from his current cruise. He cruises the Abacos regularly alone every May. A man after my own heart. His 26 foot boat had the look of a classic New England lobster boat design with a small cabin. Only it was powered by a single 200 hp OB plus a 7.7 hp OB Honda kicker which he uses on the banks cruising at trawler speed to save fuel and cut expenses. He has a small dinghy and always anchors out. I would have liked to get to know him better but unfortunately he was leaving the next morning to snorkel at the island to our north on his way back to Florida. I would have loved to hear more of his tales.
Day 13, Whit Monday, a national holiday in the Bahamas, my ex was arriving at Marsh Harbour and were to rendezvous at the Conch Inn. The following days were spent doing our usual things; day trips to neighboring cays and occasionally taking the new friends we meet at the club. One such couple from Denver in their late 40's were just married right on the Bluff House beach. We palled around with them and made a trip Nippers. Another was a young actor and his wife. He goes by the stage name of James Lorenzo and has appeared recently in a few episodes of Law and Order.
Evenings were spent dining preferably where the entertainment was. Sometimes with the participation of the newly wedded groom and his harmonica as he is an eleven year vet of the New Orleans Jazz Festival.
As happened before, we were just hanging out at the docks at cocktail hour, when a sport fisherman was giving away some of his catch at the cleaning tables to passersby. The fellow had caught a 67 lb Wahoo. He offered us a chunk of fish that after some carving on my behalf turned out to be six good size steaks. My cooker was put to good use that evening.
Day 23, My kids and my sister and her husband arrived. Those days were spent at leisure island hopping around the neighboring cays either picnicking and or visiting old haunts (bar hopping). We rented a golf cart and explored inland. We did a little scuba diving with Brendal, dive master and entertainer extraordinaire. One of his trips includes a picnic lunch with items caught on the dive- grouper & conch and always with his version of the Goombay Smash. It's a fantastic time.
My daughter and I did a dive with Brendal, and as a reminder I told him, I don't do caves. I know that caverns are on his itinerary and usually swim over or around. But this time Brendal has a lovely young blond woman named Holly assisting with the dive. As we approached the entrance I chickened out. I saw my daughter go in but somehow I just couldn't follow unless I could see the opening at the other end. Holly came up behind me and gesturing me forward and at the same time assuring me all was OK. This was all done with hand signals. Somehow she communicated to me with her hands and body movements that I had nothing to worry about. It worked. I passed through the caverns guided by Holly feeling as if I had my own personal angel. A great time underwater. Now throw in the aforementioned picnic at uninhabited ManJack Cay with the fruits of our dive a Goombay Smash and you get a fabulous day.
(2002) A dive trip during a day of squalls, I was concerned about the lightning. To me lightning can ruin a vacation be you on a boat or in the water. But Brendal assured me I had nothing to worry about. Anyway Deb & I arrived on the scene over the reef in gray skies. There was still enough light for viewing underwater minus some of the reds and yellows. Soon I started to hear muffled thunder claps at 50 feet down. They got louder and louder. I concluded "better down here than being a lightning rod on the boat". And all the while my mind was trying to figure out the physics of lightning dispersion underwater. Eventually things quieted down enough to surface. I climbed aboard with about 5 minutes of air left.
Goombay is synonymous with summer festival and not unlike Junkanoo. Regarding the Goombay Smash a little history is in order: Through out the Bahamas many of the resorts and bars of renowned have gained a reputation for their specialized rum drinks. The most famous of them all is, Miss Emily's Blue Bee Bar. Her establishment, a little out of the way place on Green Turtle Cay, has long been THE watering hole for the cruising yachtsman. Yet she coined the name Goombay Smash which spread far and wide throughout the Bahamas. We have had the pleasure of knowing Miss Emily Cooper who was a fixture on Green Turtle Cay for decades until her passing March of 97. It's nice to know Miss Emily's legacy will be long remembered in this, her Bahamian national drink, the Goombay Smash, which she created back in the 50's.Today, the traditions of the Blue Bee have been maintained by her daughter Violet. If you are in Green Turtle Cay, you'll find it across the street from the basketball court in settlement of New Plymouth. Just ask anybody. (see food & drinks)
We, along with our kids spent their send off evening listening to the Gully Roosters- The Number One Band in the Nation, as they call themselves. They are fun band that plays at Roosters Rest on Saturdays and on Wednesday and Friday at the Green Turtle club and the Bluff House respectively. The Bahamian artists are starting to compete with the contemporary artists of the Caribbean Islands with their own version of Soca. The number one song this year (2000) in the Bahamas is "Mash De Roach", by Baha Men. A year or two later they hit the U.S. thit their hit "Who let the Dogs Out".
During the festivities while the band played, we noticed a sharply dressed young fellow gracefully dancing up a storm. His name is Johnny Cool. Fact is, I had met him on an earlier occasion as he always shows up when and wherever there is a band playing on the cay. I took the opportunity to introduce him to my kids who quickly warmed up to him. My daughter danced with him a couple of times and in fact is we later spent an evening with him over a pool table at Bert's Sea Garden which is just next to Miss Emily's. Johnny doesn't drink or smoke as all the island folks will substantiate. All the more reason for us to wonder; Just what exactly is his story?
The Story of Johnny Cool: During the winter of '94 a boat load of Haitians hit and sank on one of the reefs a half a mile of so off Ambergris Cay about 12 miles north of Green Turtle. The locals had been watching the craft so when it collided many small boats rushed to the rescue. One that survived is Johnny Cool, then a young fellow in his early teens. He was thrown a life jacket by Donny Sawyer (who runs one of the boat rental agencies in G.T.) but Johnny passed it to a struggling older woman and swam to shore unaided. He was eventually picked up by Donny and because of his heroism and courage decided to adopt Johnny which would safeguard him from deportation.
Anyway..... we enjoyed meeting Johnny Cool as he is now called. He is a genuinely charismatic young man, liked and held in high regard by all island folks. He works at his adoptive dad's boat rental place by day and by night is one of the islands most outstanding dancers. At a later time I inquired of him of his arrival to the Bahamas. In his negligible French accent he filled me in on some missing pieces: namely only 15 of 26 survived and he had no relatives with him on the craft. One of his single biggest memories was how cold the water was during his swim ashore that January day. Pict
(2002) Mid week the fuel ran out. Diesel that is. On Green Turtle cay there are four marians and all were out of diesel fuel preventing boats from leaving and impeeding such local servives and the water taxi and Brendal's dive boat etc. The boats that could, treked the 15 mi to treasure Cay for fuel, the others waited for the fuel barge which arrived 3 days later. After the aforementioned situation was resolved, I noticed a 30 footer being towed in to the docks. Seems one of the clubs dockhands (not the boat's owner), who was only there on his second day, filled up his gas boat with diesel fuel! This would be unheard of in the states. I suggested to the manager he let the boat owner do the fueling as in the states. He concurred.
One day, I was in a canvas shop in New Plymouth having some stitching done on my Bimini Top's zippers. The woman in the shop had on her VHF radio as do all merchants in the Abacos. (If you have read the report on my previous trip, you swear you'll have heard this before). Anyway, a mayday came over the radio. It was an Ocean 55! Same type of boat as last time and it had hit a reef in heavy weather near to the last occurrence. Same type boat, same area - unreal! As it turned out, the boat owner was a personal friend of the canvas lady who jumped up and asked me if I could come back later. I said I would, and upon my return was told that the owner and his wife were safe but the boat had gone to the bottom.
Day 28, The next morning (2000) we saw our kids depart on the ferry to Treasure Cay. Two days later we were to drop my sister and her husband at Marsh Harbour while en route to Hope Town our next port of call. The route would take me on the inside of the Whale Cay Passage. The wind was blowing at 25 knots in our face, with closely spaced waves of 3-4 feet in the Sea of Abaco! No problem for a cat.
There were two 40+ footers heading south pounding along at 15-20 knots, as we passed them on top of the chop with our sponsons slicing through the tops of the waves. It gave me an exhilarating feeling confirming my decision in choice of boat. Looking back I saw them take a heading out into the ocean while I kept on going via the shallower inside route of the Don't Rock Passage.
We arrived at The Hope Town Harbour Lodge's dock about noon. The traditional way of docking in the Bahamas is pulling up to the dock straight forward and tying off after dropping a stern anchor. My boat borders on being a little big to do this especially in the 25 knot beam winds we were experiencing that day. After numerous tries, with the anchor pulling out, I pulled up to the dock in a traditional manor. Of course this would displace two other boats should things get crowded, which was for the moment not the case.
We checked in, unpacked for our week stay and headed for their pool / ocean side bar for our complementary drink - a Reef Wreck. And speaking of reef wreck, It was just off the reef that fronts the Hope Town Lodge that the Ocean 55 went down. No traces were spotted.
In recent times, I have been spending as much time on Elbow Cay (Hope Town) as Green Turtle, This is mainly because of it's proximity to Marsh Harbour, Great Guana Cay and Man-O-War. Plus it it is more lively. Other folks must concur because during the mid 90's the Abacos have truly been discovered. And on this and the two aforementioned cays construction is booming and I mean booming. Ferry loads of Haitians and Bahamians are seen arriving in the morning at the town dock on Hope Town from the mainland (Great Abaco) and being transported to job sites. If ever I thought about an out island home in the Abacos, I think I missed the boat. As mentioned, Hope Town is probably the busiest of the cays' settlements.
Hope Town is definitely the most picturesque of the four major cays. It is a photographers delight. From it's candy striped light house to its brightly painted houses all punctuated with flowering shrubs and plants. There are over a half a dozen restaurants here and loads of charming houses to rent. Right in front of the Hope Town Harbour Lodge where we stayed is a most spectacular reef for snorkeling. It's right off the beach in about 5-10 feet of water and works it way offshore to fifty foot depths and greater for the more experienced divers.
(2002)Debbie & I decided to get down to some serious fishing. We caught Grouper, Spanish Mackerel, Dolphin and a whopper of a Barracuda which I suspect is the reason we only brought in three quarters of a tuna.
Having given up on trolling for the day we decided to bottom fish. I put out one of my Rigged Ballyhoo without a weight. It sort of floated away while sinking ever so slowly, then it hit. The tuna wasn't a big fish, maybe only 20 lbs. But it was fun until the lines got tangled slowing down my reeling and enabling the barracuda (others told me it was probably) to take a chunk out of his tail. We are not really sure which got 'em, as we both saw sharks circling and the aforementioned mother of a barracuda. I threw in another line with a chunk of fish and hooked the cuda which I then released.
The first food items we packed for the trip were Wasabi and soy sauce in anticipation of this tuna. Before dinner we had a sushi appetizer in our room. Later on, folks looked at us skeptically as we walked into the dining room with wasabi and soy sauce in hand for the rest of the tuna the chef was preparing for us for dinner. On two occasions we had the chef cook our catch at $10 off the dinner price which I gave to him as a tip anyway. We had a gas cooker for our other grilling needs.
While trolling one day Debbie spotted two Beaked Whales. They were about as big as our boat (25 feet). If I hadn't had my lines in the water I would have followed them. It was the first time either of us ever saw whales in the wild. It was quite exciting.
Every morning a bunch of local Americans residents would gather at the Abaco Inn for coffee (free before 8AM). I joined in and found conversation stimulating especially when it came to local events and politics. One was the owner of Hope Town Harbour Lodge, the other major resort on the island. Another of the fellows was Steve Dodge. He is a retired history professor from the states and the producer of the popular, must have Cruising guide to the Abacos. He also has published other books on Abaconian History. His cruising info, which is updated annually is an absolute must for boaters and tourist alike. He told me that he was commissioned to plot the waypoints in Maptech's 5th edition chart book of the Bahamas - Eleuthera and Exumas only. Knowing of his accuracy in the Abacos, I would feel very comfortable using his coordinates.
I asked him if he has ever made published an erroneous waypoint in his book. Actually he said....
Those familiar with computers know you can automatically change a word to another no matter how many times is used. A while back when the Bahamas Area code changed from 809 to 242, he simply asked the computer to change all the 809's to 242. What he overlooked was the two waypoints that had the number 809 in it! Depending what the original number was, a navigator could be hundreds of miles off course. Yikes! He found out the hard way, when somebody brought it to his attention only after the book was printed. He immediately informed the outlets that already had the book and manually changed the 10,000 or so that remained in the warehouse. A lesson learned.
(1996) On an earlier trip aboard my 34' Catalina Islander while berthed at the Sea Spray Marina we bumped into the Cast & Crew of Fishing Fever which is the name of the TV show and the name of the boat, a 55' Ocean Yacht. We had met them back at Green Turtle and had had some limited conversation with them at lunch one day. They were under contract to provide a fishing show to run on ABC & ESPN that fall (96) and are here doing the Abaco part of the Bahama segment. Then they're off to other world wide locations. You may remember Bob Pine from the TV show Chips and Robert Fuller from Emergency and the western Laramie. They are the guest celebrities for this segment of the series.
As part of of their show that always include a celebrity guest participant. This time Margaux Hemingway was scheduled to be included in the episode. Well as it turned out, there was something of a personality conflict between her and some of the crew and she packed up and left after what one bystander describes as a bar room brawl. Anyway that was the night before we arrived - nuts. You may remember, later that summer, Margaux Hemmingway took her life.
Day 35 (2000): Departure - I had a personal mission yet to fulfill. My father had passed away a couple years prior and my sisters and I concluded that this part of the world might be a nice spot for part of his ashes to be sprinkled. I had chosen a spot on uninhabited Manjack Cay near a picnic site where he would have company now and then.
The next morning I headed out about 8 AM despite threatening showers on the bank. I pulled into my chosen location on Manjack, sprinkled the ashes about and headed to West End Grand Bahama, 100 miles away. Fact was, the sky got so black in route that I made a u-turn and headed back. I can live with rain but not lightning. Shortly two boats appeared heading towards me and the bank. One was a sport fishing boat with tall out riggers. So I made a u-turn again and fell in behind him. I figured he would be a better target (for the lightning) than me. I radioed and asked if he was going to West End. The reply was affirmative and at the same time inquired if I had made this trip before. I told him this was my fifth time. He then asked me if I would take the lead since he hadn't made this passage in this direction before. The boat's name was High Cotton with it's home port being Melbourne Fl.
As it turned out High Cotton had radar, very useful for seeing the weather ahead. And as fate would have it, the storm split into two cells, allowing us to pass between them and by 2 PM we pulled into West End having dealt with only intermittent rain. By this time the sky was clear. The Florida radio stations were saying winds SE at 10, seas moderate chop chance of evening thunderstorms 20%. Wow! So we headed out. Hi Cotton was heading to the Ft. Pierce inlet which is north of Stuart so our angle would soon diverge leaving me to go it alone. It was the smoothest passage I have ever made across the Gulf Stream! I pulled into the St. Lucie 2 hours and 45 minutes later (as compared to 3:20 going over). I headed up the river planning to make it to Indian Town. Because they didn't answer my radio calls, I stayed at a camp site just west of the St. Lucie Lock. It's a rather nice place with about eight slips. Water and electricity are available.
The attendant had left by the time I arrived. A grounds keeper told me there were no eateries within walking distance so, I showered then opened a can of sardines and lima beans and dined on them cold with a can of beer some crackers and a macanudo cigar. A perfect ending to a 10 hour, 185 nautical mile voyage.
The next morning at 6 AM I departed. The attendant hadn't arrived. (I'll need to send them a check for $18 if I can remember the name of the camp site). While crossing the lake I had expected to see boats coming the other direction as is often the case. When I didn't, I began to worry that maybe there was an unexpected lock closing for some emergency repair and that I might have to turn back and go around Florida. Pulling into Rolland Martin would tell me if my fears were unfounded. An hour later I realized my worry was for naught. (See what an idle mind will do). After a fill up it was off again and by 4 PM, I was cruising down the canal behind my home on Longboat Key.
The next day at the Wednesday boaters lunch at my yacht club, I just loved telling my friends the day before yesterday I was sitting on the verandah at the Green Turtle Club having breakfast. And no, I didn't fly back..........
Someone asked: Why did I go it alone? I answer by saying; people sail around the world alone, and some climb Mount Everest. Well this trip was my personal challenge and I wanted to prove the Bahamas are not out of reach to small boats. And I wanted to think of this boat as a car, just pack your bag, jump in, and go. You just have to choose your days. Furthermore, I have to admit, I'm addicted to the Abacos. Since that first visit in '73, I kept wanting to go back, and did over and over again. Maybe you will once you go. And if you do, you'll wonder what you ever saw in the Florida Keys.
An Alternate, not so nice Ending 2 Years later:
(2002) I was to make the return trip again, my sixth trip to date, and with my girlfriend Debbie. Overall it took six weeks about a week longer than planned because of weather. Just the same it was an immensely enjoyable trip only with a way different ending. The Old Jack Tar Marina at West end was now the new Old Bahama Bay Resort and Marina. It's truly beautiful and expensive with an abundance of 60 footers. Room rates ($400+) dictated we sleep on the boat................
....After our second week at the Abaco Inn we decided to head back in unsettled weather. We had heard reports the weather was even worse at West End and in the Gulf Stream, so we chose to sit it out for a couple days at the G.T.C. and the last place of refuge with any populace before West End.
But just as we were about to head out for G.T., a extremely large sea plane buzzed in and touched down in the channel. (I don't know what would have happened if I left two minutes earlier). It motored past us and pulled up to the White Sound beach in front of the Abaco Inn spun around and beached the plane backwards! Wow! Right away we noticed the Miami Dolphin logo on the plane. A man walked off who I couldn't recognize. Other men got out and unloaded tons of stuff mostly all geared for a party; booze, beer, soda, snacks, and food by the case lot. Upon inquiring I was told that was Mr. Wayne Huizengua himself who has a home on the island.
We arrived at the Green Turtle Club but because of continuing reports of 12+ footers in the gulf stream we chose to sit it out here rather than West End. The two days we planned to stay on G.T. turned into seven!
Finally we made it to the Old Bahama Bay Marina at West End in under 5 hours via an uneventful Little Bahama Bank crossing. The Old Bahama Bay Marina was loaded with boats waiting for the weather to break and make their Gulf Stream crossing back to the states. I had to do some fancy talking to be able to even stay. Eventually I was allowed to tie up along the sea wall.
Despite the heavy weather and 7-9 footers a good many boats including some under 30 foot departed the following day. I chose to stick it out one more. Much to my surprise that same day there arrived a Gulfwind fleet of 19 boats plus another cruise club of 11. Wow! As one would expect all arrived at around the same time and wanting to clear customs or fuel up (which you cant do until you clear customs anyway). As a result things got chaotic quickly. But with the efficiently orchestrated action of their Dockmaster Peter Watson, all were assigned a slip and waited their turn.
Years ago, the Old Bahama Bay Marina was called Jack Tarr Resort and then fell in to disrepair for almost a decade with only the marina and customs in operation. I saw the new development on my last trip, but now I can see some serious improvements, all part of the new resort. Lovely condos & homes surround the marina and more are being built. There is a restaurant, bar and ships store in the main building plus a Tiki Hut and restaurant on a beautiful point adjacent to a classic crescent tropical beach. Even with the progress, still newer facilities are in the works like a newer larger restaurant, more marina slips, showers and a new laundry. A golf course is in the works and already completed is a rec room with pool table and ping pong & TV. Tennis, fitness center, swimming pool and bicycle rentals are also available. Deep sea fishing and dive trips can also be arranged. For those who like shopping or gambling, there is a bus that takes you to Freeport for $5.00.
For some one who wants to go to the Bahamas in their boat, Old Bahama Bay makes this a particularly nice stop on an itinerary including the Sailfish Marina in Palm Beach only 54 nm away. If you have not the inclination or fuel range (100 mi) to go to the Abacos, it's a great place to go and say, I've taken my boat to the Bahamas.
At lunch, Deb & I had opportunity to chat with Eric Elza one of the directors who filled me in on plans for the area including the reopening of the West End airport. At my suggestion he is going to make available at their web site the immigration and customs forms. These could be easily downloaded and filled out prior to arrival saving some considerable time especially if a fleet of Sea Rays arrive from the states. (In 2004 he made that a reality.) For dinner, we headed out to the point to their Tiki Hut.
As mentioned, we spent a night at Old Bahama Bay on the way over and because of the room rates chose to stay on the boat. What I didn't tell you we were eaten up by no-see-ums - destroyed. It was terrible and we feared staying there on our return. Heading back, we did what we could, bug spray and all, then noticed the bug sprayer traveling the perimeter of the marina. I inquired and found out that it had just arrived the week before and they spray twice a day. Believe me, we did not get one bite of any kind on the two night return trip.
Our Last day (Tuesday June 18th) Deb & I departed at 7:30 AM in beam seas not much less than the day before. Throttle control was as crucial as steering, powering up waves and backing down. I literally had blisters on my fingers to prove it. I couldn't take my hands off steering or throttle to have a drink or use the radio. And forget about taking a leak. My auto pilot was useless in such conditions so I stood at the helm for 3 3/4 hours.
During the passage Debbie was oblivious to what I was going through and sat through it all. At our approach to the St. Lucie Inlet we heard two distress calls one of which caught her attention making her realize that things were not all as smooth as they seemed. One call was only a mile or two away from our location and that all aboard were "in the water.
We arrived at 11:15, pulled into the Sailfish Marina (in Stuart) and checked in with Customs using my useless cell phone till this moment. I had a Yoohoo and packaged convience store sandwich, which tasted like fillet mignon. It was then up the river to Clewiston for the night. We were home the next day by 3:00 unloaded the boat and headed to the post office to pick up six weeks mail.
In Summary: Weather wise it was the worst trip of my six by boat. It rained or was extremely windy 40% of the time. Passages (to the ocean) between the cays were subject to large breaking rollers. Docking in beam winds was often a major undertaking. All in all, we were laid up 8 days. But there were lovely days and nights too, some spectacular, which we took advantage of. I awoke one night and decided to walk to the dock to check my stern anchor only to be awe struck by a spectacular horizon to horizon Milky Way. I woke Debbie and we stared in amazement. We caught fish, saw whales, and to top it all off, we even saw two Pelicans! What's the big deal about that you ask? Well there are very rare in the Abacos and I've never seen one in all my 30 years going there!