We named our sailboat for our two daughters, Beth and Jean. We explained to them that by so doing we would have them near us as we traveled. Not surprisingly, over our four years of cruising, Elizabeth Jean helped connect us to her namesakes as they pursued their distant and separate paths. At the same time, Elizabeth Jean became alive to us, possessed with her own personality: solid, steady, comforting. In a word, beautiful. As we thought of what would be our final passage together, we thought of these characteristics. Too, we thought of Beth and Jean. Beth, who found her voice on the stage, abandoned her inherent shyness at “showtime” to deliver one remarkable performance after another. Jean, always the most coachable member of her many athletic teams, always followed her coachs’ advice to “finish strong.” Thus, for our passage from the Bahamas to Chesapeake Bay we elected to take the 700+ miles in one long six day at-sea passage, rather than a series of shorter hops. Now, it was show time. We intended to finish strong.
Albatross scopes out the passage from Great Sale Cay, east of Florida, to Chesapeake Bay (shrouded in clouds above Cape Hatteras).
Beth and Jean, together this past winter, always in our hearts.
The Abacos are one of the Bahamas most social cruising grounds. We know vessels who spend months moored in Hopetown, a popular gathering spot. Moorings, the bare-boat charter company, has its base in Marsh Harbor a short sail from Hopetown. We understand why. Within the Abacos’ protective outer reefs numerous small towns offer their version of conch salads and rum punch all within a couple hour sail of one another. The VHF radio and cruisers net crackles with vessels planning their on-shore rendezvous. By early May when we arrived, however, our Bahama clock was running down as other priorities pulled us north. Thus, we generally eschewed socializing and shore for quiet anchorages as we moved steadily towards Grand Sale Cay to position ourselves for our return to the United States. Grand and Little Sale Cays, our last two Bahamian anchorages, afforded two more nights of solitude. Watching sun dogs paint the sky after an afternoon of snorkeling while lazily cleaning Elizabeth Jean’s hull, Eric wrote in the log “it is crazy to stop cruising.”
The above chart depicts the Abacos in relationship to Grand Bahama (where we began our Bahama visit in February at West End). Grand Sale Cay, one of our last anchorages three months later, is immediately to the right of its label on the chart. Grand Sale is approximately 100 nautical miles from West Palm Beach Florida.
Light refracting through ice crystals form sun dogs, or are they just magic?
While we get little sympathy when we say it, cruising life can be exhausting. One thing that contributes to this exhaustion is the sheer number of decisions we must make. A case in point: our 50 nautical mile passage from Spanish Wells off Eleuthera to Little Harbor, on Grand Abaco. As is common, we faced a weather window. A couple of days between fronts would provide relatively calm weather to move. Two factors complicated our decision, however. First, the forecast included thunderstorms with high winds and lightning. A lightning strike could render our electronic systems, including navigation, useless. Second, extreme currents, called Rages, at times made impassable the entrance from the Atlantic Ocean to the protected waters inside the Abaco island chain. If we mistimed the currents we could be stuck overnight outside the entrance waiting for the next tide. The delay could bump us into the lightning storm time frame. Just as we were comfortable with our calculations and casting off from our dock, a new vessel arrived with bad news. They were planning a similar passage and had poked their bow out into the passage, only to conclude the conditions were too rough. After considering our options, we decided to venture out. We too concluded to wait a day or two to make the passage and tucked up behind a small island where we could watch the squall while riding at anchor in relative comfort. Winds topping 28 knots drove rain past Elizabeth Jean as lightning knitted the skies above Spanish Wells. Two days later, the front gone, our faithful Perkins chugged the fifty miles on placid Atlantic waters and Elizabeth Jean entered Little Harbor Cut on a favorable tide without incident. Our Abaco exploration was about to begin.