We Exit the Bahamas

Highbourne Cay
As the middle of March approaches, we planned to visit numerous islands in the Exumas that we missed on our cruise south in January. However, due to uncertainty with the Covid-19 our cruising plan has changed to move more quickly north, circle the Abacos, and position the boats at the northwest corner of the Bahamas for a Gulf Stream crossing westward to Florida or Georgia. This somewhat circuitous route also has another advantage. It steers us clear of Nassau and Bimini, current location of the only corona cases in the Bahamas.

To begin this island hopping trip, we make a short run from Cambridge Cay to Highbourne Cay. After a brief one night stop, we exit the Exumas on an early morning offshore cruise to Rock Sound, Eleuthera.

What a bizarre low cloud formation.

Rock Sound
Rock Sound is on the southwest corner of Eleuthera, one of the larger islands in the north eastern Bahamas. It is a large shallow bay that we enter carefully at high tide. We anchor and take the opportunity for final provisioning at the local grocery store. We stock up on fresh dairy and produce because there will be no more stops/towns before we reach the US.

Restrictions on cruising in the Bahamas are changing and tightening daily. A security guard at the supermarket entrance monitors social distancing, only allows 6 people in the store at one time, and wields a bottle of spray hand sanitizer.

On our walk to the grocery store, we spot this abandoned house with a barn find!

The barn find turns out to be an old firetruck.

Nasty weather blows through for a few days. We bide our time staying on the boat waiting for N68 Floating Stones to join us for the return trip. At the end of nearly 3 months at anchor with the trade winds blowing, our flag is in tatters.

Old Glory is pretty sad looking, and we have a replacement on order.

Nora finally has a calm day to try out the paddle board that was a gift from our friends Pam and Larry. Pam is an avid paddle boarder and Nora was hoping to get some lessons/tips from her. They were scheduled to join us in the Bahamas, but sadly had to cancel due to the Coronavirus.  Therefore Nora had to figure it out on her own.

Nora starts out ever so cautiously.

...But soon enough, is semi-confidently paddling across the bay.

This is a remote area and we take a dinghy ride to empty beaches, some of which are covered with shells.

Pretty crazy if you like sea shells.

Another section of the beach has the remains of an old Tiki bar. 

The Final Push
N68 Floating Stones joins us and Worknot in the Rock Sound anchorage. Maintaining social distancing, we do a 3-way cruise planning phone call and decide to move this mini flotilla to the Abacos ASAP. Even though our final destination in the US is uncertain, the northwest Abacos islands are the closest jumping-off point for a return to several ports on the US East Coast; Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Stuart, Fort Pierce, Florida, or further north to Brunswick, Georgia. The final destination decision will be based on weather, Gulf Stream conditions, and any government restrictions that might prevent landing and docking in a specific location.

In a web-streamed press conference the prime minister announces Bahamas is now completely shutting down; a 24-hour curfew for everyone and no access to docks or towns for transients. His delivery of the message is calm and clear. He is a trained medical doctor and his concerns are totally understandable.

The Prime Minister did an excellent job of conveying the reasons for locking down.

In less than three weeks confirmed corona cases in the Bahamas have gone from 0 to 15. We have gone from feeling safely isolated to extremely vulnerable.

Most of the islands have little or no medical facilities or staff as we know it. Local “clinics” we saw are the back door of a small house accessed by a gravel driveway staffed by a single nurse. Remote islands have no medical staff or facility. If the virus spread to those areas, it would be impossible to provide medical assistance to those people. We will head out in the morning.

As discussed in previous blogs, Nordhavns, are extremely self-sufficient. Bravo, Worknot, and Floating Stones carry enough fuel to travel 3,000 miles non-stop. With two generators, we make our own electricity. Bravo’s water-maker is capable of producing 600 gallons a day and our tank stores 800 gallons of fresh water. Because we are provisioned for a three month cruise, trips ashore for food, etc. can be cancelled.

The first leg of our exit cruise is a quick run to Glass Window anchorage in northern Eleuthera. The anchorage is named for a narrow gap between the islands framing the passage from the deep Atlantic Ocean to the shallow Eleuthera banks. However, no time for sightseeing today. The next morning we head out early through Fleming Channel, into Providence Channel and the Atlantic Ocean.

We quickly learn that Providence Channel is a very busy waterway for tankers and freighters approaching and departing from the Gulf of Mexico and US East Coast. Heads up for lots of big commercial marine traffic!

The weather is great, winds are moderate, but the seas are tall rolling waves and the ride up and down is like a long slow rollercoaster. In the photos below, the seas look flat and calm. However, based on these sequential photos of Worknot, we estimate wave height around 15 feet! It looks like they are sinking, but Worknot is just rising and falling with the wave swells. Yikes!

Worknot is looking fairly normal here.

But now she's sitting a bit too low in the water.

And thank goodness this was just due to the rise and fall of the swells!

We circle the Abacos with long travel days and brief one night stops in remote anchorages at Cross Harbor, and Green Turtle Cay to our “jump off" harbor, in northwest Bahamas, Great Sale Cay.

This leg of the trip takes us through the portion of the Bahamas that was ground zero of Hurricane Dorian’s “stall” and subsequent devastation last summer. From a distance, buildings on shore look “normal”, but when you look closely at the houses through binoculars, you realize that many of them are missing windows, doors, roofs, and wall sections. Blue tarps cover portions of most structures.

The shoreline vegetation at Green Turtle Cay anchorage was totally dead from salt water incursion. In the morning the smell and haze from burning trash debris permeates the air.

Normally the trees and vegetation here would be a lush green,
but salt water intrusion from the hurricane killed the vegetation.

Our little flotilla presses onward, passes “Center of the World Rock” and wonders about the back story to that name! Sounds pretty important?

Really??? We don't think we're at the center of the world, wherever that might be.

Great Sale Cay
Threading several shallow narrow waterways through the Bight of Abaco, we anchor as scheduled in Great Sale Cay. Totally uninhabited, it’s the perfect place for a final stop and “good-bye” to the Bahamas. It is the site of an abandoned military project and has miles of empty beaches; just as beautiful as the first island we saw three months ago.

The abandoned project now looks like a graveyard.

Some of the upturned concrete has names and dates.

This was a pretty good sized sponge that washed ashore.

Mary & Nora find purple branch coral that look like they came from the craft store Michaels!

We hope we will be able to return next winter to visit the places we had to bypass this trip.

While at anchor, several boats come and go from Great Sale Cay exchanging travel information via the VHF radio and waiting for the right combination of weather, tides, and Gulf Stream conditions for their crossing.

Crossing over
A storm system passes through and we wait at anchor in Great Sale Cay for two days. A bright full moon finally lights up a very early morning departure for Floating Stones, Worknot, and Bravo.

This will be a non-stop overnight run to Brunswick, Georgia. The route is straightforward… Exit Bahamas and turn right. Reach the Brunswick Channel, turn left.
It's been an amazing three months working our way through the beautiful Bahamas... Miami to Long Island; Exumas, Eleuthera, Abacos, and returning to the US via Brunswick, Georgia.

Red lines show our route out, and blue lines show our route returning. 

Our little flotilla heads out into the Gulf Stream and gets a healthy boost heading north. Normally our boat speed is 8-8.5 knots. With the Gulf Stream under our keel, it was amazing to see the boat speed at 8.0 knots and our Speed Over Ground (SOG) at 11 knots!

Fortunately, the overnight trip is uneventful. Traveling with two buddy boats is a pleasant change from transiting alone. We take turns on watch, communicate with Worknot and Floating Stones on the VHF radio, and reach the entrance to the large commercial channel for Brunswick, GA in the early afternoon.

Wow! The water here sure looks different than the clear turquoise blue water of the Bahamas!

Water is now an ugly brown, and is no longer clear. 

Brunswick, GA
While transiting the Brunswick Channel, we check in with US Customs/Homeland Security through the ROAM App on our cell phone. By pre-registering Bravo and both of us before we went to the Bahamas, the requirement for an in-person return-trip visit to a customs/port office is eliminated. Perfect concept to maintain social distancing!

What a great app!

Checking back into the US is easy-peasy!

We pass the remains of the Golden Ray, the car carrier that ran aground and capsized in the channel to Brunswick Harbor last year. Demolition teams continue dismantling the boat hoping to have it removed before the summer hurricanes return.

The ship is still intact. They are working 24/7 in the prep work to cut the ship up.

The three boats finally drop the hook for the night in the “Between the Ranges” anchorage… back in the USA.

Another peaceful evening at anchor.

Non-stop travel time from Great Sale Cay, Bahamas to Brunswick, Georgia… almost exactly 36 hours. A hot shower and a glass of wine is just fine after a long passage!

Early the next morning we go up the river to Brunswick Landing Marina to take on a small amount of fuel and prepare for a 5-6 day trip up the coast and the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) to our temporary “home” for a couple of months, Homer Smith Marina in beautiful Beaufort, North Carolina.

North, North, North
This next leg of the trip is a series of day hops from one anchorage to another; sometimes traveling on the ICW, other times running offshore. Determining factors for daily routes are weather, tide times, speed and direction of currents, channel depths, and location of safe anchorages.

N68 Floating Stones decides to stay at the Brunswick Landing Marina. So we continue to buddy boat with Worknot, to our destination of Homer Smith Marina in Beaufort, North Carolina. We have reservations for 4-6 weeks so we can catch up on boat chores, mail, and provisioning. Currently corona virus restrictions require transient boaters to remain on marina property. However, we can still get our necessary jobs done while waiting for restrictions to ease.

Day 1 - Brunswick, Georgia to Thunderbolt, Georgia
Up at daybreak, pull anchor, and cruise out of the harbor past the ongoing demolition of the Golden Ray. Quite the project, the work continues 24/7 under bright spotlights.

After an offshore run, we head upriver, back onto the ICW. Nora is busy sewing face masks made from bandanas. Karl photobombs the demo.

Nora's face mask projects.

Looks to me, like she's ready to rob a bank!

That evening we find a quiet anchorage off the Skidway River near Thunderbolt, Georgia.

Day 2 - Thunderbolt to Raccoon Island, South Carolina
We continue on the ICW zig-zagging our way up the channel, past boat yards and waterfront towns. We choose this anchorage for protection from the predicted rain and thunderstorm.

Day 3 - Raccoon Island to Charleston, South Carolina
After a rolly night, we wake up to pea green skies, thunder, lightning, and 40 knot gusting winds. We decide to delay departure for a few hours. The storm finally blows through; we pull anchor and continue to Fort Johnson anchorage in Charleston Harbor. A quiet night after a long blustery day.

Day 4 - Charleston to Butler Island, South Carolina
You are starting to see a pattern here… up early, check the weather, pull anchor, cruise, drop anchor. Sleep and repeat! We exit Charleston harbor, run offshore, and then reenter the ICW and anchor at Butler Island, South Carolina. It’s a beautiful peaceful spot. One lone sailboat joins us in the anchorage as the sun sets.

Worknot and the lone sailboat in this anchorage.

Day 5 - Butler Island to Bird Island, South Carolina
Rain and severe thunderstorms once again delay our morning departure. When the skies clear, we continue north on the ICW. The route follows the winding riverways and the banks are lush and green.

Here you can see how some areas of the ICW are really twisty.

Some areas are kind of like a jungle.

We take turns at the helm and when we are off watch, we have a new obsession… jigsaw puzzles. We got hooked doing a puzzle borrowed from Floating Stones. Now it’s ongoing entertainment!

Jigsaw puzzles are addicting for sure. Try it sometime!

Bird Island anchorage is close to long empty beaches. The sunset signals the end of another great cruising day.

We never tire of sunsets!

Day 6 - Bird Island to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
This anchorage is adjacent to the main channel that the shrimp boats use to go out to the Atlantic fishing grounds. The sun rises on the parade of boats heading to work!

Shrimp boats heading out at the crack of dawn.

For this leg of the trip, Worknot heads upriver and back onto the ICW and we head offshore. The tides and depths were going to be marginal for our 6'8" draft, so we continue around Cape Fear and arrived in Wrightsville Beach about one hour after Worknot.

The anchorage is filled with numerous anchored boats, bustling with marine traffic, and directly across from waterfront homes. We are scratching our heads wondering about the social distancing practices here.

Day 7 - Wrightsville Beach to Beaufort, North Carolina
Finally, the last leg! A nice offshore run to Lookout Point and we head into the channel for Beaufort, and Homer Smith Marina. Except for one night in January to check into Bahamas customs, we have been at anchor for three months! We have been self-quarantined on the boat for 18 days. We are happy to get on land, retrieve mail and rest.

Homer Smith Marina also has commercial shrimp and fish boats offload here.

Gale is standing next to a pallet of fresh swordfish each weighing 100-200 pounds!

The shrimps were really large, so we bought 10 pounds,
and also bought 10 lbs of mahi. Can't get much fresher!

On one of our walks in Beaufort we see these nifty birdhouses made from old Igloo ice chests.

With Covid-19 restrictions, downtown Beaufort is a "ghost town". Businesses are closed and only 1-2 restaurants have limited take-out service. That's okay with us. We do boat chores and rest up for the next next leg of our journey.

High noon on Front Street, downtown Beaufort!


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