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by Dan and Jan Ahart
After two days at Morgan's Bluff, we departed on December 21, 2000 and sailed to New Providence Island, which is home to Nassau. The trip was pleasant in that the weather had calmed considerably with 10 to 15 knot North winds and two to four foot seas. Our original destination was to be the South side of Rose Island, which is East of New Providence, and would give us an anchorage protected from North winds and also position us for a quick departure to the Exuma chain of islands. But as we drew closer to New Providence Island, the wind increased in velocity, which caused higher waves from the North. Since we were sailing East, we began to roll from port to starboard and back again at ever increasing angles, as the waves grew higher. The wind piped up to over 20 knots and we were getting uncomfortable. If we had been far from land, we could have turned to go with the wind, or heave to, either of which would have given us a smooth ride, but by this time we were very close to New Providence. Comfort and moderation being the better part of valor, we chose to scoot into West Bay, which not surprisingly is on the West end of New Providence Island. The bay is a perfect horseshoe shaped body of water that is well protected from all points except due West. The average depths are about ten feet. It was perfect for us. In due order, we were comfortably anchored and settled in for the duration. Listening carefully to all available weather reports, it seemed that we were going to be stuck with cold front after cold front for the foreseeable future, each of which would bring high winds, some rains and uncomfortable sailing conditions. There was nothing we could do, but relax and wait it out.
Early the next morning, we were listening to the VHF radio, monitoring incoming boats as they contacted the various marinas and Nassau Harbor Control. It seemed that conditions sounded better than forecast, so we talked to one captain and indeed he reported a pretty good ride. Rose Island was about 20 miles away. We figured if the sea state wasn't too bad, we could sail there and we would be as comfortable as West Bay and yet be 20 miles closer to the Exumas. Not a bad plan, but in retrospect, not a really good one either. At 1000 we weighed anchor and left West Bay. At first, the seas were okay, but the closer we got to Nassau, some ten miles away, the rougher it got. Again, as the day wore on, the winds increased in velocity. What started out as ten to fifteen knot winds and three to five foot seas quickly became fifteen to twenty five knot winds and four to six foot seas. Again, wind and waves were coming from the North and we were sailing East, which is a fast point of sail, but unlike the open ocean where these conditions would result in swells with a reasonable period (distance between waves), our proximity to shore resulted in very choppy, steep waves with a period of three or four seconds instead of six to eight. The ride got steadily worse. Reluctantly, we put in short of Nassau Harbor, behind a small island called North Cay. The island is very small, less than a half mile long and only a couple of hundred yards across, but it was sufficient to give us a break from the wind and waves. We anchored in six feet of water and settled in for the duration again.
North Cay is used as a picnic and swimming facility by some of the hotels on New Providence Island that are not located on pretty beaches. Boatloads of tourists come by party boat to swim and lay in the sun. There are gift shops and food outlets on the island as well as jet ski rentals. So, we did have company from time to time.spent a quiet Christmas on the boat listening to the radio, reading and watching a little TV. The radio announcers kept referring to Boxing Day celebrations in Nassau the next day, which made us quite curious. When we got up at 0630 on the 26th and turned on the TV to check the weather on the one local Nassau channel, we were shocked to see live coverage of Junkanoo music and parades in Nassau in celebration of Boxing Day. The parades had started at 0400! Boxing day is celebrated on December 26th throughout the English Commonwealth. It's original inception date is not known, but it was begun by the English gentry sometime in the middle ages, who gave presents (boxes) of gifts including food, clothing, cutlery, tools, money and other goods to employees, trades people, mail carriers, lamplighters and others who had performed services throughout the year. The reason it is celebrated the day after Christmas is because the gentry gave away the Christmas presents they didn't want. It is celebrated in Nassau with Junkanoo music and parades celebrating Christian themes. Junkanoo is a unique Bahamian music akin to Caribbean sounds in that any instrument that will make noise is used, from steel drums to trumpets. The beat is very vigorous and complex and the dancing is apparently anything one wants to do. The Bahamians are crazy about it and will start moving and swaying the minute they hear it. The costumes and floats were reminiscent of Mardi Gras without the lewdness or booze. This was a religious, family celebration. Nassau is not very big, but apparently a large percentage of the population participated in that the parading lasted late into the evening, with winners recognized for the most imaginative costumes, the best floats, the best music, etc. Some of the costumes, floats and routines must have taken all year to make and practice. It was all wonderful family fun. We understood that it is all repeated, in a smaller version, on New Year's Day. These people like to party.
The weather finally improved with no rain and wind diminished to eight knots out of the South on Thursday, the 28th, allowing us to sail East about 15 miles to Rose Island, where we anchored on the South side in an area called Bottom Harbor. The winds were forecast to clock around to Northwest by Friday morning at a reasonable velocity, allowing us to sail to the Southeast. The following morning, the winds were as forecast, at 20 to 25 knots out of the Northwest. Since we were heading Southeast, the winds would be at our back. Downwind is not the fastest point of sail, but it worked very well and we sailed directly to Norman's Cay averaging about seven knots for the entire 40 mile trip. Our speed probably would have been faster, but we had one reef in the main, which effectively makes the sail smaller, plus we are pretty heavy with all the provisions we have aboard. We had sailed this route in the spring of 2000 and were able to see the bottom the entire trip, because it is only 15 or so feet deep over the banks, but this time we could not see the bottom because the wind, which had blown for nearly two weeks had stirred up the sand so that the water was not crystal clear as is normal for the Bahamas.
We spent the night anchored in the cove at Norman's Cay and at first light left the Cay and entered Exuma Sound, which, like the Tongue of the Ocean, is very deep water between the Exuma chain of islands and those of the Eleuthera chain. With the continuing Northwest wind, we were able to sail South very efficiently. We sailed to Dothan Cut, which is a wide and deep opening between Gaulin Cay and Great Guana Cay, where we dropped the sails, started the engines and turned West entering the shallow banks on the West side of the islands. Negotiating the cut was interesting because the tide was flowing against us and we had 20-knot winds on our nose. I had the engines at 85% power and we made only 3 knots against the elements. Once on the banks, we turned South and motored about five miles to a sheltered cove South of Black Point, where we anchored for the night. The next morning, New Years Eve, we sailed South to Galliot Cut where we re-entered the Sound to sail further South. We preferred sailing in the Sound, where the water is much deeper than the banks, because the water was so turbid on the banks that we could not see the bottom even in seven feet of water. Sailing in such shallow water is risky if one cannot see the coral heads that may be just under the water or the shoal areas. In order to negotiate the entrance to Galliot Cut, we had to traverse about a half mile of water that was only seven feet deep. Without the GPS, we would not have attempted it. Once back in the Sound, we sailed South to Adderly Cut, which is another wide and deep cut between Adderly Cay and Lee Stocking Island. Adderly Cut was much easier to negotiate because the wind had abated some and we were at slack tide. Once inside, the water was crystal clear and we could clearly see the bottom at 30 feet. This area had been protected from the strong Northwest winds by many small cays that lay to the West and North of the cut. We rounded the North end of Lee Stocking Island and entered the protected cove at the Caribbean Marine Research Center, where we were invited to tie up to a mooring ball free of charge.
Caribbean Marine Research Center is an international facility devoted
to studying everything about the marine environment from all flora
and fauna to currents and tsunamis (popularly called tidal waves).
We found the study of tsunamis quite interesting. They have nothing
to do with tides or the waves caused by tides. They are non-tidal
waves that are caused by some force other than the moon and the sun,
which cause tides and can be miniscule or massive. A massive tsunami
can be caused by a large meteorite hitting the ocean, a volcanic eruption
or movement of the tectonic plates (earthquakes). One of the largest
tsunamis ever recorded was the result of the volcanic explosion of
the island of Krakatoa located in Indonesia between Java and Sumatra
on the night of August 26, 1883. The explosion was so gigantic that
it reduced the 18 square mile island to 6 square miles. The noise
was so loud, it was heard 3,000 miles away. The tsunami it produced
was estimated at 115 feet and it circled the globe. Untold thousands
of people were drowned in Asia alone. Learning to predict such catastrophes
would have certain benefit to mankind. Next stop, Georgetown, Bahamas.