in Abaco 2001
Part One: Sunday, July 8
Today we leave our homeport, Halifax Harbor in Daytona Beach, for Abaco. Our boat, Attitude Adjustment, is loaded, fueled, and ready. We have taken all week to prepare her. It has been a relaxed process, minimal stress; we are rested and ready.
Attitude is a 33-foot sportfisherman. She is a Pro-Line 3250, built in early 1997. Her direct ancestor is the Donzi 3250, a pure cruising boat with luxury appointments. Pro-Line and Donzi came into common ownership in the mid-1990s, and this boat was a cooperative effort. She was built in the Donzi factory in Sarasota, her hull and forward sections are identical to the Donzi 3250, but she has a “fishing” cockpit and a tower.
She is powered by twin Mercruiser 454 EFIs, has Bravo III sterndrives, and she’s capable of 40 knots (about 48 mph). Attitude is surprisingly fuel-efficient: at speeds of 25 to 30 knots she gets 1.1 nautical miles per gallon. The down side is that her modified deep vee bogs in heavy seas, and going into a 3-4 foot head sea drops her nmpg to about 0.7. She carries 250 gallons, so her range in “good water” is about 250 nautical miles; this can drop to below 200 in bad weather.
Attitude carries a Raytheon electronics package that includes GPS, depth sounder, plotter, autopilot, radar, and Flow Scan which interfaces with the GPS, giving us real time fuel efficiency. She draws about three feet, but we can raise the drives and pick up another foot of draft. She is the ultimate “go-fast” cruising boat for the Bahama Banks.
Pro-line built only a few of these boats; the projected demand just wasn’t there. But she is perfect for Bunny and I, and we love living on her. During her construction, Pro-Line allowed us to visit the factory several times. Bunny was able to select the interior fabrics and trim. Attitude’s color scheme features black, gold, and buffs. Her black leatherette settee and jungle animal prints give her interior an exotic look. There are two berths, one forward and one aft athwartships. Her galley has a sink, two-burner stove, a microwave, large toaster oven, refrigerator, and several drawers and storage bins. The boat is air-conditioned, she has hot water, and there is a nice private head (bathroom) with a wonderful Vacuflush toilet and stainless steel sink. We really love this boat, even when we tie up next to a million dollar fifty footer.
Sunday morning dawns to sunshine, light winds, and a flat ocean. We throw off our lines at 7:30 and enter the ocean through Ponce Inlet at 8:45. It is almost flat calm, and we head south at 25 knots. Our destination is Walker’s Cay, and dock to dock the distance is about 190 nautical miles. The northward flow of the Gulf Stream adds about 10 nm to the trip, making it 200 nm. If we run directly to Walker’s and have good weather, we have enough fuel with an extra margin of 50 gallons. If the weather turns foul and we bog down, our margin would shrink rapidly, possible leaving us shy of our destination. The course would take us across 170 nm of open ocean on a route that has minimal traffic. We discussed this during our trip planning, and elected to take two days to get to Walker’s rather than using the direct route. Day One will take us down the coast to Ft. Pierce, about 120 nm, Day Two will take us across the Gulf Stream to the Little Bahama Bank and on into Walker’s Cay, the most northern island in the Bahamas, a distance of 110 nm.
We pass New Smyrna and Canaveral National Seashore, Kennedy Space Center, then Port Canaveral. By now it is 11:00 and the sea has glassed off. There is no wind, no motion, no sound. We shut down the motors for a few moments to savor the quiet. I stare SE and my mind drifts into “what ifs:” we are 134 nm from Walker’s, I could run into Port Canaveral, pick up
some fuel, and on this flat ocean probably make Walker’s by 6 PM. BUT, late afternoon is when the thunderstorms come to play, we want to be in port by 3 or so, so we elect to continue on to Ft. Pierce. It may have been the wrong decision.
Attitude in her slip at Harbortown Marina
As the afternoon passes, we stop to play and fish, and finally tie up at Harbortown Marina in Ft. Pierce at about 3 PM. We take on fuel, settle into our slip, build a rum drink, and wander over to the pool. It’s a welcome respite from the heat, but after an hour we are chased back to the boat by the first of several thunderstorms. During breaks in the squalls we walk the docks and converse with our fellow boaters. This is one of our favorite aspects
of cruising. Most boaters are a friendly and cooperative lot. We are all on an adventure, we’re happy, excited, and a little concerned at how vulnerable we are to the whims of the weather and the gremlins that suddenly can cause mechanic problems in our complex vehicles. Down near the end of the dock we see a family of four washing down a Luhrs 40. The husband is in the tower, two boys aged 10-12 are washing the cockpit, and Mom is directing traffic. We marvel at how well they work as a team, no tension. Later, Mom walks by Attitude carrying a giant bag of laundry. She has a large bulky dressing on her left thumb, and I have to inquire.
Barbara is the prototype fishing/cruising Wonderwoman. She is fortyish, slender, wears no makeup, her brunette hair is plastered to her head with rain and sweat, and she has a very ready smile. My guess is that after a shower and change of clothes she would be a knockout. There is a thick southern accent and the accompanying bubbly personality. Her family has just returned from Walker’s where they fished and played for a week. Barbara is a pediatric trauma nurse, which implies that she has seen the absolute worst. Bunny asks about the thumb:
“Well, we were dragging lures off Grand Cay in a thousand feet and this big old yellowfin hit the center rigger. One of the boys got to it first and somehow put the reel in freespool, and the thing birdnested on us. I was trying to pull it out when the fish lunged, somehow a loop of line got caught around my thumb, next thing I know part of my thumb is missing.” I ask how long ago this happened. “Oh, it’s been a few days. Wanna see?”
Bunny doesn’t do well with what I think we are about to see, so I warn her. She turns away as Barbara pops off her dressing. Indeed, the right lateral side of her left thumb is, well, missing, and the only good news here as I gaze at raw meat and tendon is that the wound is clean, no infection. Barbara the trauma nurse has done a good job of taking care of her wound. I ask when she’s going to get it looked at. “Oh, I’ll get around to it.” So now I play the gentle game of nudging someone whose extensive knowledge of trauma butts heads with her personal sense of duty to her family as well as well as the “it’ll be OK” mindset into going to the ER which she should have done days ago.
“You know, that’s going to need a graft.”
“You think?” her eyes are wide.
“If this was one of your boys…………”
“OK, OK, maybe in the morning.” That’s as far as I’m going to get. Two hours later I’m trying to coax our grill into firing despite a steady rain; there’s some noise up by the ramp that extends from the bulkhead to our dock. Barbara is trying to bring a large cart loaded with laundry and groceries down the slippery ramp while holding her bandaged thumb aloft in the driving rain. I run to the ramp and help her with the cart. She still hasn’t begun to clean up, although her three men have long since showered and dressed.
“When is it time for Mom?”
She smiles, “Oh, I just have a few more things to do.” Bunny offers, “How ‘bout sharing a drink with us while those boys carry this stuff?”
“Oh, they’re all cleaned up, I’m almost done.” Off she goes to her boat, thumb in the air. We’ll never see her again, and I wonder what will become of her thumb and her life, and I wonder what the Gulf Stream holds for us in the morning.
Part Two: Monday, July 9
The alarm goes off at 6 AM, but we are both already awake. We have been listening to light rain spatter against the overhead hatch cover since about 5. Today we plan to run to Walker’s Cay, about 110 nm. The first sixty miles are in open ocean, including about 20 nm of Gulf Stream, and the remaining 50 nm is over the shallow water of the NW Little Bahama Bank.
The Gulf Stream is a river of warm, deep blue water that passes northward through the Straits of Florida. Depending on the location and conditions, it may flow at as much as five knots. A wind from the N or NE that exceeds about ten knots produces the equivalent of a huge wide tide rip, with the resulting swells being steep and tightly packed. In ’93 on a westward crossing from West End to Lake Worth, we ran thirty miles in 1-2 foot seas in front of a 15-knot NE wind, and within a mile of entering the Stream we had eight-footers trying to broach us. It’s not fun.
Bunny cooks our breakfast while I go topside and prepare Attitude for her run. WX01 on our VHF brings us the marine forecast from the National Weather Service: during the night the weather gods have concocted a trough of low pressure that is centered just north of us. Our winds will be 10-15 knots from the SW, seas 2-3 feet, with scattered to numerous thunderstorms. The SW wind is good news: the seas will be on our starboard quarter,
Sunrise over Ft. Pierce Inlet
Attitude will skip over them at 25 knots. It’s the note about thunderstorms that makes me uneasy.
Squalls are the gray demons of the sea. They are unpredictable and dangerous; they can throw wind, rain, electricity, and waterspouts at us. They can move rapidly or just sit, and they can spread laterally like fire on dry grass. We can see them with our eyes and with Attitude’s radar, so we think we can cope.
We throw our lines off at 7:25, and by 7:50 we are through Ft. Pierce Inlet into the Atlantic. The wind has yet to rise, and under hazy overcast we run ESE at 27 knots. Wind from the southern quadrants tame the Stream, and it’s almost flat as we fly across its purple surface. After dallying for a few minutes to rest and take some photographs, we arrive at the Bank at 10:45. To the east the sky has become gray and solid, and Attitude’s 24-nm radar displays a line of heavy rain directly ahead, eight miles wide and two miles deep. As we approach, we ponder our three choices. We can: a) anchor up and wait for it to dissipate, b) detour to the north, or c) detour to the south. I don’t like a); the squall can sit there for a few hours, or even decide to drift over us. A detour to the north will bring us close to the shallow waters of Matanilla Reef, and I don’t want to try that in poor visibility. That leaves a detour around the south end as our best option, and we elect to pursue it.
As we near the squall the SW wind picks up, then suddenly dies. There is no air movement, and it is eerily silent. This is the proverbial calm before the storm, a ring of heavy air that surrounds the cell. Two miles out the wind shifts to ESE, right on our nose, and head seas begin to build. A second cell forms to the south of the first, leaving a gap directly ahead. I steer for it, but within minutes the gap closes, the wind builds to fifty knots, and we are being pelted with heavy rain. I throttle back, the seas are four feet, now six, and then we climb an eight-footer. Before Attitude can rise, another giant wave breaks over her bow, and her hull shudders. The wind roars like a great freight train. We have entered the maw of the monster; the decisions we make in the next few moments will determine whether it will let us out.
My first tactic is to make slight headway 45 degrees off the wind and seas. Attitude rolls violently and crashes down into the trough. I am aware of movement in Bunny’s direction, but I am too consumed to notice other than she seems OK. I decide I can’t hold Attitude into the wind, so between swells I turn the wheel hard to port, goose her throttles, and spin her down sea, putting the swells on her starboard quarter. The trick here is to maintain her stern 45 off the sea, using the throttles to stay ahead of the watery giants that want to broach us. This point is more stable, but it takes constant effort.
Bunny hollers, “Watch that trap float!” We are just about to go over a styrofoam float and its heavy line; I put the wheel hard over and we just miss. If the rope fouls our props we will be dead in the water, and I would face the grim task of donning dive gear and cutting the line away from the props of a boat that is rising and falling several feet with each wave. I look over at Bunny; she is wearing a life jacket, she has our EPIRB, handheld VHF and GPS units, a gallon of water, and she has tied a rope around her waist and placed the end across my feet.
Three years ago Bunny sat for the USCG Captain’s license exam. She passed three of the four sections, retook the fourth and missed by two questions, two silly math errors. A sudden illness and subsequent death in her family diverted her efforts, and she has never returned to finish the exam. Point is, the girl knows her stuff. I tell her, “Honey, I’m going to get us out of this, we’re going to be fine.” She smiles stoically; it’s the same smile cancer patients wear when I’ve told them their chemotherapy is going to succeed. I feel terrible for her, this is neither her nor my idea of an idyllic island vacation. We are now making minimal headway NW, away from Walker’s, the strategy being to simply survive until the storm passes.
We hear voices on the VHF. A group of boats is travelling together and is entering the storm. Someone named Brian is checking each boat, reassuring them, giving instructions, calming his captains. During a pause I call him and he answers promptly. I describe our predicament and we exchange positions; they are a few miles north of us and the weather is not as severe. I give Attitude a little throttle and begin to describe a wide arc from NW to due N. In a few minutes the chaos begins to recede, and we take a deep breath. More conversation reveals Brian to be the manager of the Vero Beach Grady White dealership, and he is leading fourteen boats belonging to the Grady owner’s group to Walker’s. More northward progress results in less rain and wind, and soon I’m able to begin to come around to the east. We can make ten, then fifteen, and then twenty knots, the seas now down to 3-4 feet on our starboard beam. It’s a wet, rough ride, but we’re out of danger. The radar and our eyes tell us the squall is breaking up, and we leave its remnants behind.
At 2:45 PM, Q flag flying, we pass the breakwater that guards Walker’s Cay Marina and back into slip S7. It has taken us 4 hours to make 40 nm. Bunny starts to clean up the mess around Attitude’s helm while I check in at the marina office. The Customs/Immigration agent is impatient; he is expecting twenty more boats. He shoves five forms in front of me and exhorts me to “hurry up.” My hands are still shaking, he inquires as to the
Squally weather at Walker's Cay
trip, I give him shaky details as I write. He takes three forms back and completes them for me. A shake of the hand and $100 gets me out of the office and back to the boat. We drop the Q and hoist the multi-colored Bahamas courtesy flag. I look astern to see a grinning face behind salt-spattered Wayfarers; it’s Brian from the Grady group. We shake hands and laugh about the storm, I thank him for his information and encouragement, then he is off to tend to his fleet. Bunny and I embrace briefly, then we collapse into deck chairs in Attitude’s cockpit. We are safe in port, we are in the Bahamas, and we are tied up at Walker’s Cay, northern gateway to Abaco.
Part Three: Tuesday, July 10
I awake again to the sound of rain on my overhead hatch. Attitude is tugging at her lines, must be another squall. I check my watch: it’s 6:15. I’m in a snug harbor, it’s a playday, and there’s no reason for me to get up, with one exception: last night I hung all of yesterday’s wet towels, rags, and bathing suits on the bow rail. I do this each night during a cruise; Bunny calls it “Ralfie’s Island Laundry.” By now they are all drenched again, and I just don’t see me putting on foul weather gear and bringing them down. Better to roll over and go back to sleep.
Attitude at S-Dock, trying to dry out
The next time I wake up it’s 8:30, much better. From a small bin next to my head I retrieve my glasses, wedding ring, pony tail holder, a bathing suit, and the gold chain I wear around my neck. A quick trip to the head includes a slug of Scope, pulling my hair back, a splash of water in the face, as well as the obvious. I’m on deck within five minutes, and it’s a much better day. It’s sunny, windy, people are out on the docks, and the fresh air smells invigorating. But I sense trouble: scattered heavy clouds and a brisk SW wind tell me the low is still north of us. In fact, it will sit there for an entire week, bringing similar weather and confounding locals and visitors.
I love being on S Dock at Walker’s. It lines the inside of the breakwater that forms the south boundary of the marina. There are picnic tables, grills, and gazebos. Groups of boaters set up camps around each table, stacking their provisions nearby and grilling out each night. Every afternoon evolves into a dock party. Everyone ties stern to, so we all face the dock as we sit in our cockpits. There is constant interaction, banter, and laughter. Last night we bumped into some people from Daytona who had tied up two slips down. We both tried to grill out, but the steady rain frustrated our fires; they finally gave up and ate in the restaurant while Bunny cooked our food on our stove.
My mind drifts back ten years to a beautiful spring day on this very dock. We were tied up with our three sons, ages 11,14, and 17, it was our first full day at Walker’s, and everyone was excited. As I sat in the cockpit drinking in the scene a young Bahamian appeared on the dock above the boat and asked if we needed a guide for the day. I stumbled; I had a cruising guide and just figured I’d pick my way through the area. The man asked the kids what they wanted to do and they eagerly responded, “I wanna go fishin’, I wanna snorkel, I wanna go to the beach, I wanna see a Bahamian city,” etc. The man flashed a bright smile and said he could make it all happen, and then some. I stepped up onto the dock and asked the terms. Myer Albury quoted me $60; I looked at Bunny who nodded enthusiastically, and we agreed to hire him for the day.
One day turned into two, and it was the beginning of my graduate training in “island lore.” Myer taught us where to fish, how to rig our tackle “Bahamian style” with no leader, how to find conch and starfish, how to clean them, and how to figure the wind into the day’s plan. On a blustery day he took us to quiet coves and beaches, and on into the harbour at Grand Cay where we met the famous Rosie and bought Bahama bread. Wonderful memories.
So now I’m standing on S dock again forming a mental image of Walker’s and the surrounding cays. From Walker’s to Man-O-War the offshore cays run generally NW to SE, so a SW wind will roil up the waters on the “inside” but leave the offshore side quiet. Thus today’s plan will send us exploring the ocean sides of the Grand and Double Breasted Cays.
We throw off our lines at 10:30 and head east, rounding Conch Shell Cay, missing the two large rocks to its north, and slide along Grand Cay’s gorgeous beach. We try to sneak into Mermaid Cut, but the shallow water and falling tide force us to retreat. We continue along Mermaid and Big Grand Cays, not finding the heads and shoals the charts warn about until the extreme east end of Big Grand. From my perch in Attitude’s tower I can find a path through deeper water, and we successfully cross the shoal.
Bunny on her perch on Attitude's bow
Continuing E we work our way into the Double Breasted Cays, and anchor on the NE side of Sand Cay. We can argue about where Abaco’s most brilliant colors can be found; this area would have to be included in anyone’s top three. The turquoises and beiges and blues blend and weave a gorgeous tropical kaleidoscope throughout the myriad of odd rocks and islets that form the Double Breasters. We walk the circumference of Sand Cay, then sink into the warm shallow water of Sand Cay’s eastern shoal, allowing the tide to gently carry us right up to Attitude.
As we work NW toward Walker’s, the sky darkens and a squall line appears. We anchor in a sheltered little cove on the north shore of Big Grand and ride out the storm in relative comfort. As it passes it occurs to us that this grassy area has great conch potential, so I put on the dive gear and ease into the 6-foot-deep water. In ten minutes I find only one conch, so I swim into the shallows along the beach and work SE. 200 yards from Attitude I find nine of them huddled together. I can only carry three or four at a time, and I don’t want them to crawl away. I’m able to stand here, it’s about five feet, so I poke my head up and explain the situation to Bunny.
She nods, then I ask her if she can bring the boat to me; she gives me the “my husband is a lunatic look.” But with a little encouragement she fires up the motors, coaxes the windlass into bringing up the big 25-pound plow, then eases over to where I’m minding the conch. The wind holds her off the beach while I pile our treasure onto the dive platform.
While Bunny pilots us back toward port, I “knock” the conchs. I have a masonry hammer that has a heavy single claw; it’s perfect for punching out a conch shell. Three taps and I’m in; then I run the knife along the outside of the spiral center and pry the foot away from the shell. As I feel it give way, I pull the claw, and out comes the conch. I can knock 10 conch in 15 minutes; cleaning them is a whole different deal. After we tie up, Bunny washes down the boat while I take the conchies over to the (somewhat) air-conditioned fish cleaning building.
I brave flies, a really nasty smell, and a thousand questions from onlookers for a little over an hour until all ten are cleaned and washed. The conch steaks go in the cooler in a Ziplok bag; we’ll eat them later. Tonight, it’s dinner at the restaurant, a rum drink in the cockpit, some conversation with our dockmates, and an early crash in the bunk. We’re finally on “island time.”
Part Four: Wednesday, July 11
9 AM finds me in Attitude’s cockpit surveying the results of what appears to have been a tropical storm. Right now it’s sunny, but the SW wind is up to 25 knots, and there are numerous low, dark clouds. The picnic camps on S Dock have been ravaged by wind and rain. Soft drinks drift from drenched cardboard flats, trash has blown everywhere, there’s a broken umbrella here, an overturned stroller there, general chaos.
I walk up the hill to the hotel so I can read the weather report and spend a little time with the weather computer in the telephone room. The low is still just north of us and is not predicted to move any time soon. The NWS calls for SW winds of 15-20 knots and numerous thunderstorms. Over breakfast Bunny and I ponder the reality that we will have to spend the first week of our cruise battling this weather system. We develop two strategies: stay on the ocean side of the offshore cays as much as possible, and always have a ready plan for the next squall.
Today’s itinerary calls for us to travel ESE to Spanish Cay Resort, almost 60 nm. We throw off lines at 10:30 and head SE for the SW tip of Grand Cay. Several sources have warned us that the deepwater passage around Grand Cay has shoaled as a result of Hurricane Floyd. We round Burying Piece Rock and hug the rocky shoreline; there is 5-6 feet as long as you stay very close to the rocks. At one point I stray a little too far south, and we bump in 2 ½ feet. As we
From my vantage point high atop Attitude’s tower,
I can avoid the reefs and shoals
approach Sandy Cay we find plenty of deep water, and we can throttle up. As we head toward little Sayle Cay we are pounded by 2-3 footers on our starboard beam; it’s not a pleasant ride. Then we turn more toward the east, the ride softens, and I’m able to make 25 knots. We pass just south of Carter’s Cay Bank; we had planned to stop and explore this gorgeous turquoise shoal, but there are two-footers breaking on the shallow bank. So we continue on to the Fish Cays where we hope to find sheltered water.
A little after Noon we ease into the cove on the SE of Big Fish Cay. The guides describe a nice beach here, but it looks a little scruffy, and grass comes right up to the beach. We turn SE and slide over the shallows until we’re in the anchorage between Upper Cay and its unnamed opposite. The anchorage is pleasant, but from the tower I can see a pretty beach a little further down the cay, so we work our way another 400 yards or so until we anchor in 7 feet just off an attractive little beach on the north side of Upper. There are rocks between us and the beach, so we put on shoes and float over them on styrofoam noodles.
Here I must digress for a moment. We are great fans of noodles; Attitude carries four of them as part of her cruising compliment. Years ago we had been fishing off Bimini, it had been very hot, we’d been out all day, and after several hours we just wanted to get in the water and cool off. There is a beautiful beach on the west side of Alice Town, most notably opposite Seacrest and Blue Water, and in the prevailing SE wind it’s sheltered. We anchored in four feet of flat water, made a rum drink, eased into the water with our noodles and just bobbed for an hour. It was a wonderful relief, and we named the area “Noodle Beach.” On subsequent cruises we have always been on the lookout for Noodle Beach, and we have established stringent criteria: the water must be warm, clear, and very quiet, the bottom sandy and free of rocks and debris, and the colors must be electric. Our little beach on Upper Cay comes close.
Once we reach shore we explore the area. This is a wild, lonely spot, no one is around, there are no footprints, and the only sign of civilization is the odd collection of trash and jetsam that is strewn about the beach. Bunny finds an old paint bucket and collects some net floats; these will be added to the others on our wooden fence at home. We watch an ocean tally, a flat stocky fish two feet in length, feed from a shallow tide pool;
Bunny noodles into the beach at Upper Cay
he literally turns on his side and slides into water only a few inches deep. Glass minnows are everywhere, odd birds flutter about, heavy clouds stream overhead, and it is very quiet. We look at Moraine Cay in the distance, beckoning us from across the grassy shallows.
We weigh anchor and idle toward Moraine; the books describe this as an exotic cay with two gorgeous beaches, and we’re anxious to see it. I run Attitude from her tower, Bunny rides on her soft bow pad. As we near the island, I can see that rocky shallows guard her western beach, and the SW wind has made this area untenable. We swing an arc south and pick our way through several rocks. The eastern beach is accessible, but, alas, there are at least ten other boats in the small anchorage. A house is being built near the beach, a large catamaran is beached opposite the house and people are offloading supplies, dense grass comes right up to the beach; we are very disappointed. We decide to press on to Spanish Cay.
Attitude in her slip at Spanish Cay Marina
Our 15 mile run over a sloppy 2-foot chop takes us along Umbrella, Allans-Pensacola, and the Hog Cays, and finally on into Spanish. Spanish Cay is along, narrow island with a beautiful beach and gorgeous flora. The resort was badly damaged by Hurricane Floyd; it has since been completely rebuilt. A rock breakwater creates a relatively sheltered harbour; a system of elaborate docks forms the marina. As we
enter we are struck by two things: the boats in this marina are BIG, 50, 75, 100 feet, and they’re all gently pitching from the surge that is working its way through the breakwater. Bunny and I exchange a knowing glance: if these vessels are getting bumped around, imagine what’s going to happen to us! Dockmaster Felix puts us in a slip deep in the marina behind two large boats hoping to dampen our motion. It works to some extent, but even when we are snugly tied up, Attitude rises and falls about a foot.
We are anxious to explore; we clean up Attitude and give her a quick bath. Then we put on beach cover-ups and walk along the dock until we reach the ramp to the marina office. An early impression: the cooperative ambience and camaraderie of Walker’s is not evident here, at least toward strangers. The guests appear wealthy and a little aloof; we guess many of them have full time captains and crew who run their boats until
the owners fly in for a week or so. Our “hellos” generate a few conversations, but this is definitely not Walker’s, Toto. Checkin proceeds well, we meet the resort managers Suzanne and Richard; these people seem as if they are everywhere at once. Over the next two days we find both of them at virtually every spot on the island, they are very “hands on;” the first class quality and organization of this facility is a direct result of their efforts.
Pool and Waterfall at Spanish Cay
Leaving the marina office we round the dining room and find a delightful outdoor bar and adjoining fresh water pool. The grounds are lush; the buildings are painted a “shrimpy” orange with white trim. Patrice, the barmaid, is putting the finishing touches on a soft maroon frozen drink. I inquire of the recipient, she cheerfully informs me that it’s a Strawberry Colada, and offers me a taste. Folks, I usually don’t like foofy drinks, but this is tropical nirvana, I gotta have one. Bunny stays with her standard vodka/tonic; drinks in hand, we ease into the pool. There is a waterfall in one corner, and for a moment I let the gentle water cool my fried scalp. I might wanna stay here for a while.
Yet here comes the next squall; the sky darkens, the wind picks up, and we hustle back to Attitude just in time. This one lasts a half-hour; we head out to explore when a
second one drives us under a gazebo. It’s another quickie, and soon we’re able to make our way up the hill that forms the spine of Spanish Cay and on to the north side. We walk through lush tropical foliage, past giant banyon trees and hardwoods, then out onto a point where a decked walkway leads to the Wreckers Bar. This is a raised octagonal structure that is built on piles over a rocky point that extends toward the ocean. To the left a perfect beach gently curves along the shoreline. The late afternoon sun is just peeking around dense gray and purple clouds, splashing us with yellows and oranges. We are in bathing suits and have left wallets at the boat, so we pass on the bar. But the beach pulls us like a magnet, and soon we are in the warm shallow water, stretched out in a foot or so of salty liquid perfection. We sit like this for an hour, watch the last party leave the bar, leaving a solitary figure to sit, gazing at the sunset, just as we are doing. You know, if we’d have been alone….
Back at Attitude I crack four of yesterday’s conchs with a meat mallet, then set up our little deep fryer on her transom. The sole benefit of sustained 20-knot winds is a relative paucity of insects, so we are able to cook out. We have fried conch, mixed veggies, a salad, and a little rum. By the time we have cleaned up it is 10, and we settle into our bunks, wondering if the motion will allow us to sleep.
Part Five: Thursday, July 12
Our day begins prematurely as a squall roars through Spanish Cay at 3:30. Heavy rain, thunder, and lightning accompany strong winds that whip up the surge in the marina to the point that twice I am bounced up out of my bunk. Bunny and I sit for a few moments until it passes, then I venture up to the helm. All is well, other than another inch of rain in my trash bucket.
Bunny and I are at the stage in our lives where it is unusual for both of us to get all the way through the night without one of us having to get up. Those of you who are more or less fifty will understand. At home we sleep in a king size bed; when one of us has to get up, we quietly slip out and all is well. Attitude’s two berths are nominally “doubles,” but both can be accessed from only one side, and then only in the middle. We have tried sleeping together, but when the one of us on the inside has to get up, he/she has to climb over the other, which is impossible to sleep through. So while we cruise we sleep in separate berths; when we go to bed one will crawl in with the other to talk or whatever, then we separate. It’s a regrettable but acceptable concession to aging.
Wreckers' Bar and its stunning Beach
The next time we wake up it’s 8:30, much better. We take it slow this morning; after the busy night and the difficulty of the past few days, we want to relax. It’s sunny but the wind is still roaring out of the SW. We’re excited, it’s playday at Spanish Cay. The plan is to take whatever the weather gives us and explore the surrounding cays; again we’ll stay on the NE or ocean side and keep an eye out for squalls.
small island homes that sit along a gorgeous cove ringed by a golden beach. A single figure from a second floor balcony watches us pass and returns my wave. I wonder what life is like for this individual: there is no power, no water, no sewer, no help; he must rely on his home’s systems and his own wits. Is he lonely, does he have friends, does he venture out to the neighboring cays, does he live there year round? We couldn’t do it. But Lord, does he have some choice scenery!
The Hog Cays consist of three “principal” islands and a myriad of odd rocks and islets. The colors that interweave throughout this labyrinth are the electric greens and blues that dazzled us at Double Breasted. There are a few tiny beaches, some are very enticing, but rocks and shoals are everywhere. We work farther west to Prince Cay and find a stunning little cove near its western tip. Shallow and rocky, we work our way in; there is a strong current and the wind swirls around the corner, sliding Attitude toward the beach. Bunny is standing by with the anchor, she’s dying to go ashore. But while I’m jockeying Attitude into position, I see trouble on the radar: two dots of rain have appeared to the SW. I look up and see a dark line of clouds forming; it’s about eight miles away. If the wind is blowing twenty knots from the SW, then we have less than a half-hour until it hits us.
How can we assess the destructive potential of a squall? Some of this is guesswork, but there are important things to consider. Often we can determine the direction of movement by watching the cell over time; sometimes they will follow the direction of the prevailing wind. A line seems to be worse than a single round cell; the darker it gets, the stronger it seems to be. Likewise, those with frequent lightning seem to be worse. If a really dark cell develops a greenish sheen, the cell is very powerful, very electric, and easily has enough energy to spin off waterspouts or tornadoes.
We pass a little cove opposite the marina, then the rocky point where the Wreckers Bar watches over the beautiful beach. After we pass the shoal, I bring Attitude to within fifty feet of the shoreline, and we glide along the stunning tropical garden. Friends in Walker’s had told us that Spanish is the most beautiful cay in all Abaco, and I may have to agree. The great majority of Abaco visitors never get this far NW, and it’s regrettable considering everything we see today.
The beach extends NW for a few miles, then finally gives way to rocky shoreline. After we round Squances Cay at the tip of Spanish, we throttle up and eat the 2-3 foot chop as we head west toward the Hog Cays. We tuck into the lee behind the first of the Hogs and resume our sightseeing cruise. Now we are really in the boonies; we are alone except for two
Lonesome house in the Hog Keys
Another view of Wreckers' Point
Lines are off by 11, and we cruise SE along the windward shore of Spanish and the rocks to its SE. It’s sloppy, but as we arc to the NW and slide behind the cay, the sea settles down nicely and we are treated to a gorgeous excursion. As previously mentioned, Attitude is a “go-fast;” however, we enjoy running her at sailboat speed when we are exploring or cruising with a relaxed itinerary. Her motors are quiet, there’s less motion, Bunny sits on the bow and watches the bottom, and I sit in the tower with charts and cameras. I love the tower: it’s shaded, the view is incredible, and it’s ten degrees cooler than my station at the helm.
So I study this one for a moment and consider this potential anchorage: it’s difficult as it is, we don’t have much room to swing, and while we would be out of the wind for a while, the wind shift that often accompanies a cell could push us onto the beach or the rocks. As we cruise, we have a rule: if either of us sees a spot they want to explore, we make every effort to stop and do it. This time we’ll have to pass; we discuss it for a moment,
Bunny is disappointed, but we have to play it safe. Within another five minutes the line darkens and extends. We had wanted to work NW to Big Hog, but we decide to run back to Spanish to the cove by the Wreckers Bar. I am amazed at how fast the weather deteriorates. I have to idle for about a mile across the shallow bank before I can throttle up, and by the time we can run the monster is only a mile away, threatening us with a strong, chilly downdraft. In a flash we are flying at thirty knots, and the run to shelter only takes a few moments. We anchor in our cove and watch a wall of water drift to within 200 yards of the boat. While we briefly get 30-40 knot winds, the rain and the worst of the cell stay west of us.
After a sandwich and drink, we wonder if there might be conch in our little cove, so we don dive gear and ease into the water. The grassy bottom has good potential; we find whelks, horse conchs, sea biscuits, and a few lobsters, but no conch. We wave a regrettable goodbye to the “bugs,” climb back onto Attitude and clean up. When we bought Attitude, Bunny had them install a fresh water shower with hot water in the transom walkthrough; it’s a very civilized comfort to wash off the salt with warm freshwater at the end of a swim or dive.
After the weather clears, we decide to cruise SE to Powell Cay. This is a quick run with the wind and seas behind us; we again elect to stay on the sheltered ocean side of the cay. In previous years we had explored the beach that faces SW; today we ease through patch reefs and rocks and anchor off Powell’s north beach. This one is a dandy, an absolutely perfect Bahamian beach. The beach itself is wide and clear, extending in a gentle curve for over a mile, and the green sandy shallows are clear and protected. We dally here for over an hour, noodling to the shore and exploring.
Later we continue east and creep over rocks into the bight formed by Powell’s eastern shore and the smaller High and Soldiers Cays. We anchor in four feet just west of the bar that extends south from Soldiers Cay. The colors and scenery are staggering! It is shallow enough to walk from the boat up onto the bar, then to Soldier Cay, a scenic, craggy little rock. We watch another squall pass to our west, and would have played a while longer in our snug little anchorage were it not for the falling tide and surrounding shoals. We carefully ease back out of the bight into deep water, then quickly run back to Spanish. Attitude gets a bath, then we take a half-hour to cool off with a strawberry colada in the pool.
As the sun drops behind the Hogs we set up our grill on the transom. We have a little circular Magma charcoal grill that fits in a rodholder. I line it with foil, pour in a bag of Minute Lite, light the fire, and settle back. A crowd and some “oohs and ahhs” draws me to the fish-cleaning table at the base of the dock. Two men are cleaning fish and throwing the remains in the five-foot-deep water. Ten sharks, some of them sizable, are looping under the table and gobbling up the goodies. Many of them are nurses, but there is a blacktip and another that looks like a bull.
The dock doesn’t have a rail, and as the crowd shifts to get a better view, I wonder what would happen should someone fall in. One of the cleaners ties his last fish head to bare 20-pound line on a spinning rod. He throws it into the open water a short distance from the table. A shark quickly grabs it and starts to run; it lunges violently when it feels the pressure, creating an exciting burst of white froth. Then the line snaps and party is over.
Bunny noodles at Powell Cay's ocean beach
Bunny is cooking Kielbasa on the grill as our dockmates return from the restaurant. We get the feeling none of these people cook. But the aroma of sizzling sausage is a magnet, and soon we have our own small crowd and a little conversation. At last we have our dinner, which we eat at a small table we have set up on deck. Again we are exhausted, and after a rum drink and some quiet time we slip into our berths. Today we have certified two new “Noodle Beaches,” a rare double. Tomorrow we cruise to Treasure Cay and a rendezvous with Gary M and AbacoWilly.
Part Six: Friday, July 13
Today we are up early; once again it’s Moving Day. Our itinerary consists of the 30-nm cruise to Treasure Cay. We had originally planned to run down the Sea of Abaco to Treasure Cay Beach, then around the Whale Cay Passage and into the marina. A check of the weather finds our low-pressure trough intact, and it is projected to pull more moist unstable air from the south. We can expect persistent 20-knot SW winds, with numerous squalls beginning tomorrow. But so far today it’s quite sunny, if not windy.
One more view of the beach at Powell Cay
Over breakfast Bunny and I discuss altering our planned course. The SW wind has the Sea of Abaco roiled up; we could run along the shore of Great Abaco and avoid most of the chop. But since we only have 30 nm to make, we decide to cruise along the ocean side of the cays, inside the barrier reef. It’s a risky plan in that there are numerous heads and shoals along this route, but if it’s sunny and the nearshore water is clear, I should be able to see and avoid the obstructions from the tower.
Lines are off at 10; we run east and come around the NW side of Powell, then throttle back as the ocean calms in the lee of the island. Bunny makes her camp on the bow, and I carry cameras and charts up to the tower. And what a gorgeous trip we
are treated to! Talk about eye candy, every tropical color imaginable explodes around us. At 6 knots we slide along the outrageous beach we had found the day before at Powell, passing Soldier and High Cays, then Bonefish Cay and it’s outrageous homes. The open water on either side of Ambergris Cay is choppy, but the visibility remains good and I am able to work around the heads.
We pass Lincoln Cove on Manjack, then find the stunning 2-mile beach on its north coast. Bunny points and orders me to stop; we idle to within fifty yards of the beach, I still have five feet under the boat. We drop anchor, the wind holds Attitude off, and we noodle in to explore. This is another perfect beach, a long shimmering crescent that is backed by casuarinas and palmetto thicket. We are alone and completely overwhelmed by the natural beauty. This beach would be sheltered in a south or SE wind, although it would stir up as the wind veered to the east. Visitors from Green Turtle should be able to get here in twenty minutes or so, although I would recommend running up the SW side of Manjack and looping around its NW tip. As we resume our course I must zigzag through the maze of heads, but at sailboat speed and with the tower’s perspective I am able to pilot us safely.
Next we pass Green Turtle, its beautiful NE ocean beach, then Long’s Bay and Gilliam’s Bay. Gilliam’s is out of the wind, and there are at least 20 boats anchored around its electric green perimeter. We pass little Pelican Cay; with its coconut palms and shoreline I can’t help but imagine that someone sliced off a tip of Bora Bora and brought it to Abaco. Noname comes next, and as we pass along the shoals and rocks to its SE, the ocean roils up and we are in a sloppy 2-3 foot chop. Our sightseeing tour has ended; the days we have spent between the cays and the reef have been a visual cornucopia. We would never have considered this route were it not for the brisk offshore winds. We have cursed the weather and our “bad luck,” but perhaps it’s time to remember that while you can’t always get what you want, you might just find that you get what you need. At any rate, it’s time to run the Whale and on across the Sea of Abaco to Treasure Cay. Bunny and I abandon our cruising perches and secure our gear for the bumpy ride.
In a SW wind the Whale poses little additional danger as long as we navigate accurately. We bounce along until we enter the short-lived lee created by Whale Cay, turn SE toward Baker’s Bay, and finally SW for the run into TC. This is a teeth-rattler: I fully extend Attitude’s trim tabs and throttle up to 19-20 knots, and we crash along 5 nm of corrugated froth. Conditions improve as I enter the channel leading into Treasure Cay. I call the marina on the radio and receive our slip assignment, the Dockmaster is waiting to assist us.
Bunny and I are very proud of our ability to back into a slip and successfully tie up. We have practiced this to the point where it is a smooth, relaxed procedure; Attitude’s remarkable handling ability also contributes. We idle to a spot opposite our slip, I spin Attitude counter-clockwise until she is lined up, then slowly back until Bunny, standing on the bow with three lines, is opposite the pair of outer piles. She slips the first line over the windward pile as I gently throttle Attitude up against it, then we allow the wind to softly push us against the leeward pile, onto which she loops the second and third lines. The first and second are then loosely tied to the bow cleats, the third comes back to the leeward spring cleat. Bunny stands by as I back to within about five feet of the dock. I throw the two stern lines to the Dockmaster, and while I hold Attitude in position he crosses them and fastens each to a pile on the dock. It’s only then, when I am sure of her position and security, that I shut down the engines. We hand the Dockmaster our two power cords and hose, he connects them, flips the breaker, and I verify we have electricity. I shut down the generator, take a deep breath, and thank the gods for another successful passage. It is 4 PM, time to explore the marina.
This is our first visit to Treasure Cay, and we are excited. We had contacted Gary M and Willy on the way in, they are still fishing and will be in shortly. We check in at the marina office, find the showers and restaurant, then take a lap through the gift shop. I escape with a relatively minor $98 tab: Bunny scores a shirt, a butterfly mobile, and some stationary, and I buy a shirt and a new nozzle for our washdown. We build a round of drinks in “to go” cups and settle into the pool. For you TC regulars we are in slip N11, which is perhaps 100 feet from the pool. The bad news: we are exposed to, you guessed it, the SW, and Attitude is rolling and bouncing with the surge. Will this ever end?
Within the hour we are joined by Gary M, wife Jenn, daughter Kristen, AbacoWilly and Mary Anne, daughter Monica and son Daniel. After the exhilaration of our ‘hellos,’ Gary brings up the subject of dinner: he suggests we eat at A Touch of Class, a local restaurant a short cab ride from the marina. We all agree, and a quick call on the VHF procures a reservation and two minivans. That having been accomplished, we adjourn to rum and merriment in the pool. By the second drink it dawns on someone, I think one of the girls, that having skipped lunch and being hours from dinner, a “light snack” would be to everyone’s benefit. From boats and condos come cheeses and crackers and chips and sausage, a wonderful little poolside repast. The time passes quickly, it’s suddenly 7 PM and Attitude is still a mess from her trip. Everyone adjourns to their quarters to clean up for dinner.
Attitude’s foredeck can be very slippery, and I have a hard and fast rule about wearing shoes when she’s wet. But the elation of our party and a little too much rum sadly deter me from my own good sense. I walk about Attitude’s deck barefoot, accompanying Jimmy Buffett to “Tampico Trauma” while Bunny cleans up the cockpit. I work aft with the hose, and I get the devilish urge to spray hosewater down the front of her bathing suit. She is startled and hollers at me, and in the chaos I slip on the wet deck and clumsily crash into the water, grabbing the gunnel at the last moment. I am initially embarrassed and disgusted with myself, I have broken my own cardinal rule and no doubt look like a Neanderthal.
Then comes the awareness that things are not quite right: the lower part of my left leg has that numb, shocky sensation of fresh injury, and I look down to see a spreading red stain in the water. I slowly pull myself up and swing onto the dive platform; blood is running down my leg across my foot, a lot of it. Somehow I still have the hose, and I spray the wound. What I can see is extensive but superficial, nothing that will have to be sutured. Slowly I stand up, I can bear weight, I run my hand along my tibia and feel for the hematoma; yes, there it is, it’s going to be a dandy, but I don’t think I have a fracture, maybe a little periostial tear at the worst. Bunny is speechless; “It’s going to be OK,” I try to reassure her, ”I need a large clean rag and some ice.” She has it in a moment, and I sit for 15 minutes holding pressure against the wound.
One of our best friends is Bill Aubin, a consummate fisherman and EMT from Sarasota. We cruised the Berry Islands with Bill and his wife Joan right after taking delivery of Attitude in 1997. Bill brought a very comprehensive first aid kit he had assembled in a small toolbox, and I added suture, local anesthetic, needles and syringes, and a few surgical instruments. Hopefully we are prepared for most of the trouble we could get into, in terms of minor trauma. Bunny
My wound; notice the hematoma and
swelling around the ankle; pretty stupid, eh?
retrieves the kit, and thankfully there are four large non-adherent sterile dressings. Once the bleeding stops and the wound is dry, I cut one of these 4x8 pads into two sections, cover them with Neosporin, and tape them over the wound. And yes, my tetanus and hepatitis vaccinations are current, thank you.
We meet Gary and family in the circle in front of the marina, Willy and his party having left moments earlier. I sit in the front seat with Pops, the cab driver, while everyone else piles in back. My leg is uncomfortable, it wants to be elevated, it doesn’t want to bear weight, it’s very unhappy with me. Pops inquires; “I got bit by the dumbass bug,” I glumly respond. Pops and the others laugh, and then we somehow get into a conversation about what fish are safe and not safe to eat. Dinner at Touch of Class is wonderful, we have grouper and conch and peas ‘n rice, I pass on the rum.
On the way out a very large black woman, an Abaconian Pearl Bailey, hands on hips, inquires, “Well, were we playing with a barracuda today, Dahlin?”
Uh-oh, gotta think fast here; “Uh, yeah, barracuda, that’s it, had him in the boat, trying to get the hook out.”
“Why didn’t you just cut him off?” Her voice rose.
“Well, it was an expensive plug, I didn’t want to lose it.”
“And what’s our leg worth, hmmmmmm?” Now she rolls her eyes.
“You’re right, I shoulda just cut him off.” Hey this could work. The “dumbass wound” has just evolved into a barracuda bite!
An hour later I am in my bunk and nothing is “working.” My leg is up on two pillows, throbbing away. Tonight I’ll need a little extra help. I always tell patients to save a few pain pills when they are prescribed for surgery or dental work, just for these kinds of situations. I open my little “hard analgesics” bottle and find the last remaining Percacet from my 1998 knee reconstruction (ruptured MCL/ACL, right knee, courtesy of the slopes of Telluride). I really don’t like Perkies: they make my skin itch, I get a little nauseated, and I have terrible dreams. But this is an extraordinary situation, so I pop the little round pill and slowly settle into an uneasy sleep.
Part Seven: Saturday, July 14
I am snorkeling over the Bank in ten feet of water, working a ledge, looking for lobsters. As I round a bend in the ledge, I spot an immense pair of antennae. After two deep breaths, I descend to the bottom opposite the ledge; the biggest lobster I have ever seen is peering out of a rocky crevice. I gently slide my hand along the lobster’s flank, being careful not to startle it. But he’s suddenly alarmed, flapping his giant tail in an effort to back farther into the crevice. The action wedges him against my hand; I reflexively try to withdraw, but he flaps his tail again, and somehow one of his sharp spines penetrates my heavy glove. As I try to pull back, the spine jams it’s way into my hand, right down to bone, pinning it against the rock; now I can’t get out. A red stain spreads form the hole, the pain is terrible. Then there is a terrible explosion, everything is shaking, it must be an earthquake. I am frightened, panicky, I can’t move, I can’t breath, blood is everywhere, now there are sharks, another explosion, a flash, terrible motion, the voice is urgent, “Wake up, wake up, WAKE UP!”
I sit up in my bunk with a start, bashing my head against the overhead hatch, creating my second hematoma in 12 hours. Bunny is gently shaking me, “It’s OK, you were dreaming.” It’s 3:30 again, and we’re in another squall. Attitude is rolling and bucking against her lines, rain is pounding against the deck, and the thunder is almost constant. Glad we’re in port! Attitude is staying off the dock piles, so I don’t really have a reason to go topside. The storm passes in fifteen minutes, and we’re able to go back to bed.
At 8 AM I’m sitting at Attitude’s very wet helm in foul weather gear, watching dark heavy clouds drift NE toward Guana, wondering if we’ll be able to play today. Months ago we made plans to take Gary M and family fishing, and this is the only full day we’ll have together. Better get a weather report; for the first time on this trip, we are far enough SE to hear Cruisers’ Net, so I turn on the VHF and bring up channel 68. It’s quiet for a moment, then Patty Toler cheerfully takes an early call from someone at Guana Beach Resort, and I drift back to the day I met this remarkable lady.
A few years ago we flew into Marsh Harbour and took the ferry to Hopetown. We had a line on a piece of property, and we wanted to take a look at it. It was late January, the weather was delightful, and we were excited to be in Abaco. I always carry our Sony PC-1 camcorder when we travel; this amazing little device is about the size of a sandwich, yet it records 16-bit stereo sound and high resolution digital images to a matchbook-size cassette. The ferry was crowded, and just before we pulled away from the dock an attractive brunette sat down next to me. She wore dark Costas, white slacks, and a black silk shirt, and she seemed to know everyone on the ferry but us. During the run to Hopetown I stood up a few times to shoot video, being aware that my fellow passengers were watching the goofy tourist with the little camera. After a few moments a young woman seated across from Bunny laughed and said, “I can’t believe how small it is.”
In mock distress I gasped, “Is it that obvious??!!” There was a brief silence, then the brunette exploded into laughter, as did everyone else in the immediate area. The girl blushed and said, "I meant your camera.” Bunny hit me over the head with a rolled up magazine, much as she would a puppy who had misbehaved. The brunette laughed harder, then inquired, “Where are you guys from?”
Turned out Patty knew somebody we knew, and before long the conversation evolved into boating and life in Abaco and finally Cruisers’ Net. We have been great fans ever since, and never miss the chance to listen when we are in the Hub area of Abaco. And now Barometer Bob is telling me that the trough is beginning to show signs of tropical storm development, and that a Hurricane Hunter aircraft will investigate the system later today. Bob predicts SW winds of 20 knots and numerous squalls, continuing through tomorrow. Not what I had wanted to hear. I walk the short distance to Gary’s condo and give him and Jenn the news; Gary is undaunted. They’ll be at the boat at 10:30, we can reassess then.
Gary and daughter Kristen arrive on the dock at the appointed time, and folks, they are ready to go fishing! Gary has rods and a cooler and a glass bottom bucket and tackle and food and some other stuff; Kristin is excited about the boat. There is a lull in the rain, Gary exudes the confidence of a man who anticipates a beautiful day. Every grouper from Guana to Elbow is in jeopardy. Jenn arrives a few moments later, we throw off the lines, and soon we’re running NE to Loggerhead channel.
At about the halfway point my radar paints two areas of rain; we look SW and see a line of angry, low clouds. In another few moments the two cells coalesce, forming a jagged line 10 miles in length. Considering our course and its movement, it’s obvious that the squall is heading directly at us. I confer with my crew and suggest we find a safe anchorage until the storm passes. We alter course and run between Gumelemi Cay and the extreme NW tip of Guana, then around its north point and along the beach until we find an area where the reef recedes from the shoreline, creating a 200-yard wide anchorage. Bunny clambers up to the bow in foul weather gear and releases the anchor while I position the boat and hit the windlass control. Ten feet of chain drops, then Bunny hollers at me to “Stop!” Murphy’s Law strikes: the chain knot on the anchor rode has partially unraveled, and the loose strands have fouled the windlass. As such, I can neither raise nor lower the partially deployed anchor. The downdraft sweeps over us and the rain begins. We are suddenly in a jam, caught between the reef and the beach, unable to drop our primary anchor.
Attitude carries three anchors: in addition to here primary, a 25-pound Delta plow, there is a second 17-pound plow as well as an 18-pound Danforth. The two spares are stowed in a large circular livewell on Attitude’s transom. I send Bunny to the helm while I dig out the Danforth, which I then have to hump to the bow, gimp leg objecting. The wind has shifted almost due west, and it’s up to 30 knots. Bunny steers us into the center of the anchorage, then a little to windward, and I drop the Danforth in eight feet of water. Fortunately the bottom is soft sand, the Danforth bites quickly, we drop back 60 feet and I cleat off the rode. As I return to Attitude’s helm the first squall hits, and it’s ugly. We are rocked by heavy rain and gusts to 40-50 knots; I line up a tree on shore and a patch of rocks and watch anxiously to make sure Attitude doesn’t drift. But she holds tightly, we’re OK.
The squall last about fifteen minutes, the wind relents to 15-20, and heavy rain settles in. The radar shows 360 degrees of rain out to 8-10 miles; Gary thinks the signal has attenuated, and that the rain probably extends beyond. It’s now noon; for the next three hours we endure squall after squall, listening to all manner of misery on the VHF. Boats are running for shelter, Bimini tops are blowing away, restaurants are closing, and people are lost. During one of the lulls I climb to the bow with a knife and cut the rode away from the windlass. We can now raise the primary anchor and secure it back into its cradle. I disconnect the chain and bring the end of the rode aft into the cockpit. While the others eat lunch I form a new chain knot by unraveling the three-strand nylon rope and forming a Chinese Crown over the first link of chain. I then back-splice the strands against the running line for about a foot. The last step involves burning the ends with a flame or soldering iron; the strands are drenched and won’t ignite, so this step will have to wait until dryer times. Finally, I return the chain and road to the bow and connect it to the anchor.
Gary and family remain upbeat, even though they are drenched. Gary is excited, he has a thousand stories about fishing and boating and flying; Jenn is calm, reassuring. Kristin looks cold, she’s wrapped in a towel and shivering; I offer to fire up the generator and turn on the heat for her, but she wants to remain with us at the helm, and she doesn’t complain. These are great people to be with. At some point Gary
sees a tiny spot of blue sky in the general direction on North Carolina, and remarks that clearing skies are moments away. Ten minutes later we are swept by the fourth squall of the trip, but he remains confident.
At 3 PM the radar shows a “white-out,” the sky is black as ever, and it’s becoming obvious that this day is shot. I gently express this to my crew, and they glumly accept. The bad news is that we will have to take the weather “on the nose” on our run back to Treasure Cay. We pack up our food and stow all the loose gear, everyone finds a stable spot, and the trip begins. The wind is on our beam as we approach Gumelemi, rolling Attitude violently. As we emerge from the pass and turn SW, we enter a very angry Sea of Abaco: there is an ugly 2-3 foot chop and heavy rain. I make 14-15 knots and we bounce and crash our way back to TC, tying up at 4:15. During the ride Gary and Jenn have decided to host a “hurricane party” in their condo for later this evening, so they adjourn to dry off and begin preparations. We part with a regretful “some other time.”
The one positive aspect of this kind of heavy rain is that Attitude doesn’t need a bath, just a little spot cleaning. In the process of squaring her away I empty three inches of rain from her trash bucket! The weather relents, and we decide to make a well-deserved drink and walk down to the beach.
Treasure Cay Beach has been touted as “one of the world’s top ten beaches;” we’re not exactly sure as to the origin or authenticity of said statement, but it would be difficult to argue the contrary. Sadly, it’s not very pretty today, under gray skies and a nasty wind. We walk along the shore in our foul weather gear, knee deep in the warm water, recalling previous happier times here. There are a few adventurous souls who are swimming, braving the lightning and rain, but by and large the beach is deserted, a rare occurrence. The rain begins to pick up, so we work our way back to Attitude. Once we are onboard, we dry off for the first time in several hours. The dressing on my wound is
soaked and discolored. After a shower, I gently peel it off, wash away the gunk with peroxide, then dry it with a hair dryer, finally covering it with Neosporin and a new dressing. Yuck!
By 8 we have all gathered in Gary’s condo; a noticeable exception is Sinclair, our webmaster, who is stuck in Florida and can’t return until the weather clears. But Barbara has brought some nice grouper filets, and we enjoy these along with conch and burgers and a pork loin and way too much rum. AW and family are here as well, it’s a wonderful Abaco Board Sorta Hurricane Party. At 10 everyone decides to adjourn to the Tipsy; there’s a band and they want to dance. Bunny quietly inquires about my leg, and truthfully I’m ready to jam the ice pick into my cerebrum because it’s pretty damn uncomfortable, as well as swollen to double the size of its counterpart. We make our way back to the boat, and this time I take a Naprosyn and two Extra Strength Tylenol. No nightmares tonight! I hope.
Part Eight: Sunday, July 15
For the first time on this cruise we sleep in; we don’t set an alarm, and it isn’t until almost 9 AM that I make my way to Attitude’s soggy helm. The sky is a uniform gray, and there is heavy rain. Today we are to relocate to Seaspray Marina on Elbow Cay, 20 nm to the ESE. It was to have been a casual playday; we will pass Guana, Man-O-War, Marsh Harbour, and Hopetown, and we had just planned to pursue whatever struck our fancy on the way to Seaspray. Unfortunately, it looks like a rainout.
At breakfast we are subdued. Frankly we are discouraged, demoralized; we have been fighting adverse weather since the second day of the cruise, and it’s wearing us down. We are also physically exhausted, and we agree to just punch our way to Seaspray, tie up, and spend the afternoon napping or reading. This is not all bad; on previous trips we have taken a day mid-cruise to recuperate, so this action has precedence.
We walk up to Gary’s condo to say ‘goodbye.’ He and AW are concerned that their flights may be delayed or cancelled due to the weather. They are scurrying about, packing, talking with the airlines on the telephone, calling cabs, etc. We shake hands and exchange hugs, and finally separate with a promise to rally in October at CFBM II. Bunny and I settle our bill at the marina office, pick up a load of laundry, and prepare Attitude to run.
Lines are off at 11:30, and a few moments later we are running ESE at 22 knots through steady rain and a moderate chop. A few boats are on the water this morning; we watch diligently for them, and our radar helps as well. We round Point Set Rock as the rain briefly eases and turn SE; soon we are passing White Sound Mark and are entering its channel. I hail Seaspray on the VHF and a familiar voice quickly responds: it’s Junior, the Dockmaster, our best friend in Abaco. Junior directs us into a slip diagonally across from the marina office and the fish cleaning table, takes our lines, quickly laments that the power is off, then we all hurry to shelter as the next squall line bears down.
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Attitude can make her own power; she carries a 6.5 kilowatt Onan generator that actually supplies more electricity than dockside 50 amp shore power. While Attitude has “all the comforts of home,” each “comfort” has limitations. For example, she has a 40-gallon freshwater tank that supplies water for ice, cooking, the toilet, washing dishes and kitchen paraphernalia, and limited bathing. Typically I have to refill the tank about every 36 hours. We have a small hot water heater, 6 gallons; we turn it up very hot so we only have to use small amounts. If we heat water in the morning, it stays hot all day, so we can still take a warm shower after diving or swimming at 5 in the afternoon. The holding tank (it “holds” what we flush) is 12 gallons, so periodically we have to dump it; by US law this can only be done offshore. Thus it pays to use marina facilities when we are in port.
Attitude’s electrical system is a little complicated. There are actually two systems: the first is 12-volt, like you have in your car, and the second is 110-volt, like you have at home. The 12-volt system is powered by 4 large 6D lead acid batteries, and provides electricity for cabin lights and the refrigerator, the boat’s electronics and navigation lights, and for starting the engines. In port we get 110-volt power from a utility station at dockside; a large yellow cord brings a maximum of 50 amps into the boat. When we are at home we rarely think about the amount of electricity we use for various tasks. On a boat with 50-amp 110-volt electric, it’s necessary to be very aware of how much power is being used. Amperes, or “amps,” is the currency of electricity. Each electrical device requires a certain amount of amps; for example, the air conditioner needs 12 amps when it cycles, the water heater needs 12, the microwave needs 10, the stove needs 10-15, a hair dryer needs 10, etc. If you were to turn all these on at once, the power consumption would exceed 50 amps, and either the breaker at the utility station on the dock or one of the boat’s main breakers would trip, cutting off all 110-volt power to the boat. Fortunately, there are gauges on Attitude’s electrical panel, so it’s possible to tell how much power we are currently drawing, as well as how much each device uses. When Bunny cooks, she turns off the hot water heater and anything else that is eating more than an amp or so, then turns on each cooking appliance as needed. She may have to turn the stove off for a moment while she runs the microwave; you have to consider these issues when you cook with relatively limited electricity.
Attitude’s generator can actually produce 60 amps, but there are two down sides to its use. First it is noisy, really noisy. Second, we are not able to use the generator while we are running at more than about ten knots. The generator is cooled by “raw” seawater that is brought in through a brass port on her underside. Attitude has a “performance hull,” and as we accelerate and bring her up on a running plane, about half her length comes up out of the water. As she runs enough turbulence forms under her hull such that a substantial amount of air is drawn into the generator’s raw water intake. This causes the generator to overheat, and it shuts itself down. This we can only run the generator when we are moving at slow speeds. Because of the intense summer heat, we usually throttle back a mile or so from our destination, turn on the generator and air conditioner, and take a few moments to unwind before we tie up. Once we get squared away at the dock and connect to shore power, we are able to turn off the generator and go below where it is nice and cool.
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After we tie up at Seaspray, we leave the generator running, thus assuring we’ll have power for whatever we need until the electricity at the marina has been restored. We can see the BEC crew working on a utility box at the foot of the dock, and at one point one of them approaches us and asks to borrow some WD40. We carry heavy duty Corrosion Block that he is delighted to see; he takes it and hustles back to his crew. During a break in the rain we walk over to the office and full out registration paperwork while we catch up on the latest news with our pal Junior. In the past year owner Monty Albury’s illness and the loss of two other key staff members have placed a heavy load on Junior’s broad shoulders. During the next week we see Junior all day every day, often well into the night, attending to his duties. Junior is the man to see if you want something such as a dinner reservation, if you are having trouble with your boat, or you need advice about potential spots to visit or explore. We spend an hour with our friend on this nasty Sunday afternoon; unfortunately, it is really the only time we have to chat with him. But we do learn that he has just built and moved into a new home, so when we return to the boat we decide to get Junior a housewarming present. But we’re perplexed: what should we get him?
The rain continues, and we settle into my bunk to watch movies. The power comes back on at about 5, so we switch over to dockside power and kill the generator. We have dinner reservations at 8 at the Abaco Inn; their van is to pick us up at 7:15. We take our time showering and dressing, and I do a little wound care. As luck would have it the rain relents just as the van pulls up to take us to
dinner. At the Inn we bump into another old friend, Patty Pinder, who has previously worked as Resort Manager at Seaspray. At the bar we sit with her and her friend Adam, he now runs the rental boat concession at Seaspray, and ask about a present for Junior. Patty becomes very animated: she tells us that Junior loves flowering plants, and that we should try Pinewood Nursery in Marsh Harbour. It may be possible to call them and have a plant delivered to the dock at Seaspray. We put this on the list for tomorrow or Tuesday. As the hostess leads us to our table, I happen to notice a gorgeous orange sunset to our west. Hmmm, haven’t seen that in a few days.
Dinner at the Abaco Inn is exceptional. The waitress suggests filet minion with sautéed shrimp, and it is fabulous. We don’t often order beef when we’re down island, but the waitress had been very enthusiastic, and we are thrilled. The ambience at the Inn is so pleasant, there’s a soft breeze coming off the ocean, the air is fresh and dry, a few stars are out………WHAT?! Stars, how can there be stars? And an easterly; and dry air?? I anxiously walk out onto the pool deck, something has definitely changed. Clear skies and dry air from the east, could that mean that the trough that has whipped us for eight days has finally dissipated?
Part Nine: Monday, July 16
At 7 AM I am wide-awake; I’ve had trouble sleeping, I am excited about the prospect of good weather. I open my overhead hatch and am greeted by an explosion of bright, iridescent blue sky, a soft dry breeze, and no clouds. In a few minutes I’m at Attitude’s helm drinking in the gorgeous sunrise, sipping a little green tea. I have 45 minutes before Cruisers’ Net, so there’s a little time to look around. I walk to the base of the dock, then up the hill to the little wooden beach overlook. The ocean is stunning, almost purple; the wind is from the SE at about 10 knots or so, there is a slight chop, and I can already see several boats. Back at Attitude, I unzip her Isenglass curtains, take down my laundry (it’s actually dry), and wait for the Net.
The ocean view from Seaspray’s outlook
At 8:17 Barometer Bob is gushing: high pressure from the south has moved over Abaco, the trough has dissipated, and good weather is forecast for the next several days. He predicts winds 10-15 knots from the SE and scattered afternoon thunderstorms, mostly over Great Abaco Island. At breakfast I give Bunny the good news and ask her how she wants to spend the day. Bunny ponders her options for a moment, and decides
she wants to go fishing and conching down on the South End. We shower, square away the boat, and by 10 we are heading south through Lubber’s Channel.
Years ago, while hiding from a squall off the north side of Guana, we bumped into some local fisherman. We had planned on bottom fishing, and I had brought the same 100-pound 4/0 rigs we use for snapper and grouper in deep water off Daytona. The locals were very polite, although I’m sure they thought we were nuts. They advised us to use light tackle, 12-16 pound spinning rigs, and to tie relatively small hooks (#1) directly to the line without a leader. We asked them where to fish, and they told us to simply drift in 50-60 feet just beyond the main reef, using only enough weight to get our baits to the bottom. We were a little skeptical, but figured we’d give local knowledge a shot. In two hours we caught nice grouper, yellowtail, triggerfish, grunts, mangrove snapper, a cero mackerel, and some other fish I couldn't identify. This has been our fishing technique ever since. Its only drawback lies with the absence of a leader: you have to check your line frequently for fraying, and you have to be patient enough to re-tie as often as is necessary.
Our route takes us south from Lubber’s Quarters, around Tilloo Bank, through Pelican Harbour, and finally out into the ocean via North Bar Channel. By 11 AM the wind has picked up a little, it’s about 15 knots, and we bounce over a 2-foot chop as we head south along Lynyard Cay. When we are opposite its southern tip we throttle back and shut down the motors in 55 feet of water. Attitude lies “beam to,” her bow facing east away from land, her cockpit facing Lynyard Beach. We have frequently done well here, and we are anxious to start fishing. Bunny and I use slightly different techniques: she likes fishing with cut bait on a #1 hook, and I like to bounce quarter- or 3/8-oz jigs on the bottom; we both use 12-pound spinning rigs. I quickly bring up a grunt, and this becomes Bunny’s cut bait. We fish for an hour and don’t have much luck. Low tide is at 11:30, and I am wondering of that is what is stopping the bite.
We decide to cruise along the SE coast of Great Abaco and return to fishing later after the tide turns. We head south at sailboat speed, passing Goole Cay, Little Harbour, The Boilers, and the cliffs that lie to the south. Ahead of us the sky is darkening, and I watch three small rain cells pop up on the radar. We are disappointed, we had really wanted to explore SE Abaco, but we’ve had it with nasty weather, so we decide to run back up to Lynyard where we can dash back into Pelican Harbour if we have to escape a squall.
Bunny stops me from jumping in after the grouper
At 2 PM we are fishing again, keeping one eye to the weather to our south. Bunny brings up a small hind that gets sent back, then connects with a nice fish that bends her rod double. She works her fish up and down for several minutes, then finally finesses him to the surface. I put down my rod and lean over the gunnel behind her to see a gorgeous yellowfin grouper of maybe 6 pounds. As I reach for her line, I see a severe fray just above the hook. As
I hesitate the line parts with a “snap,” and for a moment the grouper lies stunned at boatside. I have to work fast: the net is still buried, I forgot to pull it out. The gaff is stowed in brackets right beside me, so I hastily grab it, hoping I can free-gaff the fish. I make three passes, but without a line to stabilize the fish, I can’t drive in the point. The grouper is waking up, starting to flap its tail; it’s now or never. At this point I’m not thinking, I just want that grouper, and I start to slide over the gunnel into the water. But a firm hand grabs the waist of my bathing suit; I am suspended, feet in the air, my hands a foot from the fish, Bunny hollering, “Oh no you don’t!” The fish slowly swims away; I am furious. Bunny puts it in proper perspective, “It’s just a fish. And what were you going to do if you got in the water with it, Mr. No Gloves, hmmmm?” I feel very unmanly.
But, with the tide change the fishing has picked up. We bring in two nice yellowtail and several red hinds (“strawberry grouper”), three of which appear to meet the three-pound minimum, although I’m still not sure whether that actually applies to this species. As we catch small trash fish, I cut off the head, which I then impale on a 4/0 hook that is tied to four feet of 50-pound mono. This is fished on a 20-pound spinning rig that goes in a rodholder while we fish the lighter rigs. Twice this rode gets good hits, but both are cut off before I can get whatever is at the other end out of the rocks.
By 4 we are cooked, so we decide to head for smooth water and some relaxation. We pack up our rods and tackle, run NW through North Bar, then north through Pelican Harbour, and finally into the cove on the north side of North Pelican Cay. With the south wind I can bring Attitude to within 100 feet of the shoreline in four feet of water; we drop the hook, watch for a moment to make sure it’s fast, then shut down the motors as the breeze holds us off the beach. While I’m getting down the noodles and dropping the dive ladder, Bunny builds us drinks. We slide into the warm water, get comfy in our noodles, retrieve our drinks from the dive platform, and slowly kick our way toward shore.
Considering the entire Bahamas, this is our favorite Noodle Beach. A sandy spit extends west from a rocky hill, forming a gorgeous beach that is sheltered from the prevailing SE wind by the hill’s forty-foot elevation. The water color at the shoreline is a sandy beige that slowly gives way to lighter and then darker greens as the depth increases. There are scattered rocks and grassy patches that provide occasional dark relief. The water is warm and calm; tiny wavelets are lapping at the beach. We bob in two feet of water, drinking in the beauty of this wonderful spot. After an hour or so it’s time to look for conch, so I put on mask, fins, and snorkel, and make a quick pass through the cove. We have occasionally found
good numbers of conch right in the harbour, but today I can only find whelks and horse conch, no queens. Looks like I’m going to have to work for them.
We weigh anchor and idle over to the deeper grass west of North Pelican. We have a 50-foot “trolling rope” that has a loop at one end; we deploy this into the water away from the props. When all is ready, I get in the water, place my right heel through the loop, and Bunny idles Attitude toward the west. The water here is relatively deep, 15-25 feet. The trick is to find 3-5 conch together; I don’t want to have to make ten descents in this depth. I pass over several “singles” until I find four conchs relatively close together. I drop off the line, take three deep breaths, then dive for the bottom, purging my ears against the pressure. The conchs are in a 15-foot circle, and it takes me a moment to gather them all. Four conchs are heavy, and it’s tricky to juggle them as I work my way to the surface. Bunny has retrieved the line and is circling to pick me up. As Attitude eases by me, I “push” my treasure up to where she waits on the starboard corner of the dive platform. In two more dives we have our ten; it has taken perhaps 15 minutes.
I love the run back to White Sound. Bunny pilots us west until she clears Tilloo Bank, then puts Attitude into a wide arc to the NE, and at 28 knots we fly before the wind. I have time to rinse and dry off, shoot a little video, and take some stills. It is a gorgeous Abaco afternoon; the sun is scattering spectacular yellows from behind a purple cloud that is dumping rain on Great Abaco. We throttle back shy of White Sound mark, fire up the generator and air conditioner, and soon settle into our slip at Seaspray. Time to go to work.
While Bunny gives Attitude her afternoon bath, I fill one bucket with our conchs and another with our fish, gloves, a rag, knife, hammer, and stone. The fish-cleaning table is just a few steps from the boat, Bunny and I can easily converse if necessary. With the fish happily nestled in ice, I can go to work on the conch.
There are two reasons why people collect conch: they either want the shell or the meat. Those wanting a “perfect shell” are faced with the daunting task of removing the animal without disfiguring the shell. There are several ways to do this: most involve killing the animal by either freezing or boiling, then somehow pulling it out with a hook or pliers or letting fish or insects eat it away. I have had no luck with any of these; Bunny doesn’t object to a ¼ by one-inch hole in her treasures, so I clean them the “Island way.”
I place the shell “face down” (the opening is the face) on the table, and strike the “magic spot“ with the stout single claw of my masonry hammer. The spot lies between the second and third ring of horns counting from the bottom; the hammer makes a slit-like opening in the shell wide enough for a one-inch knife blade. As the hammer pops into the shell’s
interior, the conch cleaner is greeted by an explosion of “gook,” rendering him a disgusting mess; thus I perform this operation in an old bathing suit, rinsing off frequently. Once the shell is open, I run my knife along the outside of the interior spiral, feeling for the foot’s attachment, popping it off with the knife. As I feel it give way, I grasp the claw and remove the animal. After slurping the pistle, I cut away the soft, slimy mantle and viscera. Next I tap the body several times with the dull side of the knife; this firms the meat and lessens the difficulty of removing the conch’s very thick skin. I cut off the claw, then cut longitudinally across the eyes and proboscis until I have developed a flap of skin. I use my fingers to extend this plane, working the skin away from the flesh while I pull with the knife against the skin flap. If done correctly, the entire circumference of skin comes off in one step. More often, it fragments, and I have to trim small bits of skin away from the body. Lastly, I make a slit along the vent, wash out the gritty dark gunk, and wind up with a nice, clean conch steak. It takes me about an hour to clean ten conchs: by then I am covered with gook, hot, sweaty, thirsty, totally disgusting.
During this process I consume a 20-ounce bottle of spring water. We carry several 12-packs of whatever is on sale, and we go through about 8 each day. It is a wonderful and convenient way to stay hydrated: when we get thirsty we just pull one out of the cooler, then leave it in the icemaker between sips. After cleaning conch I’m ready for a little rum; Bunny does the honors. Back at the fish-cleaning table, I knock out our grouper and snapper in 15 minutes. I filet them the same way: I make a diagonal cut from the shoulders, proceeding just behind the pectoral fin, into the abdominal cavity. I make a second cut through the abdominal cavity back toward the vent, staying superficial so as not to puncture viscera. I then run the knife along the backbone working toward the tail, leaving a small piece of skin attached to the tail. I flip this section over and work the knife along the skin, thus removing it. Lastly I trim away ribs and any other bones I can find, yielding a nice filet.
After a shower and change of clothes, it’s 8 PM, time to start our favorite Island meal. Bunny puts four fat conchs in a heavy Ziplok bag, and I pound them into a paste with a meat mallet on Attitude’s transom. We then set up our little “Fry Baby” on the transom; we have to run an extension cord through a deck hatch back to the cockpit. When all is ready Bunny drops pieces of battered grouper filet and
cracked conch into the sizzling deep fryer. As the sun sets behind Great Abaco we are treated to fresh fried grouper, conch, and a salad. It doesn’t get much better! By 10 we collapse into our berths; tomorrow should be just as good!