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by Dan and Jan Ahart
We only stayed at Little Farmer's Cay for one night because the next morning, May 9, 2000, the wind had clocked around to due South again and had increased in velocity to between 15 and 20 knots with gusts to 25 knots. The forecast was for continued brisk winds from the South for at least the next three days. The high-pressure system causing this had been virtually stationary for nearly two weeks, with no end in sight. Since we wanted to see other parts of the Bahamas before heading back to Florida, we reluctantly gave up heading further South for this trip and turned North. After picking our way out of the shallows, we joined a veritable fleet of boats heading the same direction.
Hurricane season starts June 1st, so most cruisers either head back to the states where they may be safer or they head South below the hurricane zone. A few stalwarts stay in the Bahamas and Caribbean and take their chances. We joined the crowd heading back to the states. Heading North allowed us a chance to see some of the sights we had missed while journeying South.
Our first stop was the abandoned U.S. Navy DECCA Station on Pipe Cay. The station has been abandoned for about 20 years, but it was once a communications station of some sort. I don't know what DECCA stands for, but knowing the military's penchant for acronyms, it probably has something to do with defense communications. The layout looked very familiar to me because I spent some time at similar stations when I served in the Air Force. It had the standard military generator building supplied by diesel fuel via an above ground pipe from a remote storage tank. Closer to the pier was the all-purpose building, which included living quarters for at least five and maybe as many as nine personnel and an electronics equipment room. Adjacent was the foundation of the antenna tower. Interestingly, the boiler for distillation of fresh water had not been removed; otherwise the buildings were empty, except for several plastic bags of trash that some degenerate donated. I suppose some people think garbage will evaporate on its own or someone will come and retrieve it. On the other hand I suspect they are thinking-challenged.
Our next stop was Hawksbill Cay, where we anchored for the night. After setting the anchor(s) we usually relax with a swim, followed by a bath, followed by a cool drink, followed by dinner and an hour or two of satellite TV. We always check the weather channel and we can usually find an interesting movie. If not, we read or sometimes listen to traffic on the HF radio, either HAM bands or marine bands. Now and then, I call someone just to verify that our transmitter is working well. I have made contact with marine net operators from the Cayman Islands to Omaha, NE and Chicago, IL. as well as Winnipeg, Canada. I'm not one to spend a lot of time with idle chit-chat, but it is nice to know that the communication is there if needed. Of course we usually talk to Herb, the weatherman in Toronto every day. I am continually impressed with people, who participate in marine radio nets to provide information relays and other information services to boaters free of charge. Herb, for instance, is so popular that he is on the air for about four hours a day. He gives weather information to cruisers from England, the Azores, the Caribbean, the Bahamas and of course the entire East coast of the U.S. and all areas in between. It is incredible to listen to someone off the coast of Ireland receiving a weather briefing from Herb in Toronto.
We continued North the next day and stopped for lunch at Norman's Cay. This time, we did not anchor in the bay, but instead sailed up to the West side of the island and anchored just off shore. Imagine if you will anchoring in eight feet of crystal clear water, dinghing a couple hundred yards to shore, walking across a beautiful white beach, entering a thatch roofed bar and, ordering a cool drink, cheeseburger and fries with your feet propped up, gazing over the ocean wearing nothing but your bathing suit and a big smile. Jimmy Buffet's latest CD, "Beach house on the moon," was even playing. Just another day at McDuff's bar and restaurant. I want to tell you, we almost decided to stay and say the hell with hurricanes. supranormal will power, we dinghied back to Sojourner and continued Northward to Allan's Cay, which was packed with about a dozen boats. The bay at Allan's Cay is not very large and a dozen boats makes it a bit crowded. So, we had to anchor at the extreme North end where the water is deepest and the currents are strongest. Two anchors were absolutely necessary so we would not endanger other boats as we swung with the changing tides. The danforth anchor set easily in nice deep sand in water about 15 feet deep, but we had trouble with the bruce anchor, which ended up in about 25 feet of water on a grassy bottom and would not dig in. I snorkeled down to have a better look at it. There was a nice sandy patch about ten feet from where it lay, so I decided I would pick it up and move it to the sand, where I was sure it would catch. The move was successful, but I stirred up a lot of sand and grass in the process, which for some reason attracted the biggest barracuda I have seen to date. It must have been at least five feet long. One look at it and I decided the anchor was fine where it was. Unfortunately, when we got back in the boat and backed down on the bruce, it dragged, so we had no choice but pull it up and find a new spot for it. After a considerable search, while everyone else in the anchorage was watching and probably thinking that those folks ought to get a horse, we finally found a nice sandy patch in about 15 feet of water that would work. This time the anchor seemed to hold, but to be sure I got back in the water to check it out for myself. Sure enough it had buried itself beautifully in the sand. Feeling very good, I started back to the surface only to see a five-foot shark of some variety cruising by about 10 feet away. I believe a melted one of my flippers getting back aboard Sojourner. The rest of the evening was uneventful.
We left Allan's Cay at 0800 the next morning, May 11, 2000. Wouldn't you know, the Southeast winds that had blown for nearly two weeks abandoned us as we headed back to New Providence Island. So, we fired up one of the diesels and headed out on a heading of 314 degrees. Actually, according to our weather fax, we had traveled far enough Northwest to reach an area of the high-pressure system, where the winds were much lighter. Traveling from Allan's Cay to New Providence Island meant crossing 35 miles of the banks again where the average depth is less than 20 feet. Midway, there is an area called the Yellow Bank where scattered coral heads rise to within four to six feet of the surface. The outcroppings are easy to spot. On an otherwise turquoise sea they look like dark splotches scattered here and there. Most are well spread out and most are less than 30 feet in diameter. However, sometimes they are grouped close together. Since the winds were so calm, we stopped at one of the groupings to have a look. The coral is spectacular since no anchors are dragged through to disturb them. There are corals that look like trees and some that look like gold pavement and all shapes and colors between. Naturally, there are gobs of beautiful fish. We even saw a huge sea turtle trying to hide under a ledge without total success. It was so nice and pretty out there that we didn't leave until after lunch. of going into Nassau, we anchored off the North shore of Rose Island, which lays just East of New Providence Island. Not far from where we anchored, is Sandy Cay, which is a small oval shaped island that is covered with palm trees. It looks like the archetypical isolated ocean island, and we where told it was used for the backdrop in the opening scenes of the TV show, "Gilligan's Island." While diving to check the anchor, we saw a very unusual sight. A very large school of about 1,000 silvery blue fish that were each about one foot long, swam by with a six-foot barracuda right in the middle of them. We figured the barracuda had invited itself and the fish couldn't get away from it. They did give it plenty of room, but I suppose if it wanted to it could have grabbed any one of those fish at any time. Maybe the barracuda was experimenting with nomadic fish farming.
We left Rose Island at 0800 the next day. The wind was light and variable and
the seas were almost calm, with perhaps six inch ripples and it was getting
hot. By 0900 the temperature was 80 degrees. It was time to head North.
Since we had what appeared to be a good weather window to cross the gulf
stream, we decided to motor to Chub Cay, about 40 miles away, check with
Herb and our weather fax one more time and if it looked good, make an overnight
run to Florida. We arrived at Chub Cay at 1700 and met some friends we
had met in the Exumas. We had dinner with them and they related to us
a most interesting experience that had while cruising South of Georgetown.
They and two other boats were anchored off the coast of Flamingo Cay,
when a boatload of 280 Haitians landed. The Haitians had been at sea for
six days and had not had food or water for two days. Fortunately, our
friend is a retired physician and was able to provide life saving care
to most of the Haitians. Also, all of the cruisers had full water tanks
and working water makers, but even they could not keep up with the demand.
A fourth boat arrived with a high capacity water maker and that seemed
to provide an adequate, but temporary supply. After a great deal of difficulty
and staying up all night to help the Haitians, they were finally able to
make contact with the Bahamian authorities and the U.S. Coast Guard via
HAM radio. Help finally arrived the next day via medivac helicopters and
Coast Guard cutters. When it was all over there were three dead Haitians
and several sent to intensive care units in the states. It is a tragedy,
but on the other hand can you believe the luck of the survivors, who happened
upon four boats with food, water and a physician? Stay tuned.