Saturday 13 April, Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas
My last post was written in Georgetown on Great Exuma. Every winter something like three to four hundred cruising boats make Georgetown their winter home. By the time we got there in late March there were only about 150 remaining. The vast majority are American and Canadian “snowbirds” who spend the winter in the Bahamas and return home once spring arrives. There is a regatta in early March and estimates reckon there are around 500 boats anchored off Georgetown then. We spent less than a week there and didn’t really understand why so many people go there. The facilities are basic – you can’t take the boat alongside for fuel or water and the anchorage is what is called a roadstead i.e. large and open so if you are on the downwind side of it you can experience a short sharp sea that has built up across the bay. There isn’t even a decent chandler! Anyway, with such a concentration of boats it means there are less elsewhere so increasing your chance of finding an anchorage to yourself!
Georgetown was left astern two weeks ago and we spent the next ten days slowly travelling North up the Exumas. The Exumas are a chain of, mostly, small cays (pronounced keys) some of them privately owned and some uninhabited. To the east of the chain is the deep water of Exuma Sound and the Atlantic and to the west of the cays the very shallow water of the Great Bahama Bank, typically three or four metres. As our boat has a 1.7m draft navigating in the shallow water is interesting, to say the least. There are coral heads that can reduce the depth by 1-2 metres and would do serious damage to your keel if you hit one. Fortunately the water is crystal clear and in good light you can spot the coral easily and avoid it. You get to learn to read the water and after a couple of days of bank navigation things aren’t so stressful.
As you travel north from Georgetown places with any sort of facilities are few and far between. Even buying basic foodstuffs is challenging. When we provision we normally buy at least a weeks worth of food and with whats already on the boat can stretch that to 10 days. On this occasion the diet was getting a bit thin by the time we got to Nassau.
The prevailing wind is from the east and so the most sheltered anchorages are to the west of the cays, in the shallow water. By UK standards there isn’t a lot of tide here, a range of about one metre. However, it has to flow from the deep water, through the gaps between the cays, the so called “cuts” onto the bank and then back again. This means you can easily get a current of 3-4 knots in the cuts. If the tide is in the opposite direction to the wind the sea builds up and can actually be dangerous to a small boat. The trick in navigating the cuts is to get into the current at the last possible moment and plan the passage so that the tide and wind are moving in the same direction, simples.
This same tide is also a feature of many of the shallow water anchorages to the west of the cays. We spent one night at the south end of Norman Cay with the wind fighting the tide for supremacy and Emma Louise swinging around all over the place. Fortunately the anchor held fast and we stayed put.
The Exumas are a stunning cruising ground, the water is so clear you can see the bottom in 10 metres, or more. There is great snorkelling and sharks are not that common although rays and barracuda seem to be. With the wind from the east most of the time it is easy to sail north west, as we have been doing although the return journey will be more tedious. Here is our anchorage at the south end of Norman Island….
Once in Nassau we spent a rare night in a marina. When we do tie up we take the opportunity to grocery shop, do the laundry, fill up with fresh water and diesel, visit the chandler (there is always something required for the boat) and sometimes treat ourselves to a meal ashore, Chinese on this occasion. We had a visa application “interview” at the US Embassy on Wednesday afternoon and are now waiting to get our passports back. I say interview, it was more of a 15 minute process crammed into two hours. We went through two separate security check posts, queued, presented our documents, waited, had our fingerprints taken, waited some more and then had a five minute interview the trickiest question being “what is the longest time you have spent in the United States?”. In reality, the hardest part was completing the on line application form which took me over an hour. Anyway, we are being given B2 visas, valid for ten years so we now have the right to present ourselves at a Port of Entry and ask to be let in – they can still say no!
Some shots of Nassau, starting with parliament square…