If you’ve followed some of our adventure or watched the weather channel over the last few months you may be aware of the increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and abnormal amounts of rainfall.
The day we left Staniel it wasn’t certain where we would end up, but heading north was necessary as the weather had lightened up.
Late in the afternoon, after hours of beautiful sailing, we had the choice to turn off for an overnight at Hawksbill or to continue north in order to get a few more miles in. The kids were the deciding factor. We thought best to get them off the boat for some beach time, while possible, as we expected the next few days to include a long haul home—so we anchored at Hawksbill. We all jumped into the dinghy and opted to oar to shore (the dinghy outboard was secured in place on the boat for the journey). Kyle oared with all his might, but the wind basically kept us in place. The kids were completely disappointed! We finally came to an agreement to do a movie instead, but they were still bummed.
The next morning we set out early. We aimed north and eventually made the decision to make a go all the way to West Bay (9-10 hours).
Right outside of West Bay, we were able to skim the edge of the Tongue of the Ocean once again so Kyle threw in the fishing lines. About 500 yards out, the fuel filter clogged and the engine turned off. Thankfully, it wasn’t our first rodeo, and we instantly knew what the issue was. The troubleshooting was simple as we were already under sail. I took the wheel as Kyle directed me to our specific destination within the anchorage. Also, to our advantage was the fact we were already familiar with the area as we had anchored in West Bay for an extended stay earlier on the trip.
Once we were safely on the hook, Kyle changed the filter, ran the engine and everything was back to normal!
We looked at the weather and made a plan to jump to Chub Cay in the Berry Islands the next day.
Then we made our way to the beach for some land-time before bed.
The hop to Chub looked to only require a half day so we decided we would wake up and visit Ocean Atlas again for some snorkeling before making the afternoon crossing.
We immediately woke up and loaded back into the dinghy with all our underwater exploratory gear—even Noah had her new mask in hand.
When we arrived to Ocean Atlas we were delighted to find the sculpture even more accessible as it was low tide. We all took turns admiring the beautiful 17’ tall art piece and her tropical fish friends.
On our way back to the boat we went for one more swim and some sand combing. Then we had lunch and set off.
With only about 30 miles to go we could basically see the horizon of Chub soon after New Providence disappeared from view. It seemed like we were on a huge lake rather than ocean—the water was so calm.
We fished until one of our lines was snapped off by a huge sea monster—the type of creature you dare not cross.
By the time we made it into the harbour at Chub it was dark so we did our best to maneuver into place and hoped we would hold until the next morning.
We had listed our boat for sale several weeks prior and had started getting interest in Miami. The weather was not predicting conditions that we felt comfortable with so instead of going across the Great Bahama Bank to the Bimini area to align ourselves for the crossing back to Florida (two long days), we went north from Chub to explore the Berry Islands and wait for a better window. Lots of studying and references to the charts went into this decision. We ended up figuring that we could cut across The Bank diagonally from the northernmost point in the Berries down to Cay Cay (south of Bimin) without adding any extra time at all.
So basically, we have the Berries a chance and we were thrilled with what we found. In the days that followed, we were able to explore some of the most insanely gorgeous, remote and unique nooks and crannies the Bahamas has to offer!
The first day we anchored near Devil’s Cay/White Cay/Hoffman’s Cay. We explored several pristine, white beaches all within one afternoon. We found a trail and some bouldering crags, a setting with tiki hut, beach chairs and fire pit (probably for some mega yacht passengers).
The most incredible discovery we made was the blue hole on Hoffman’s. Hunting it down was a feat. We pulled up on the protected beach and swam while Kyle sniffed out the overgrown trail—we followed him into a thick jungle hiking alongside an ancient set of ruins. We dodged poisionwood trees, prehistoric-sized mosquitos and spiderwebs. The trail was completely covered overhead so it was a bit dark which made the whole experience a bit more dramatic. We went the wrong way a couple times as the trail split off in different directions. The ruins came and went. Imagine any heart pounding scene from Lost, plus three little kids and a fair amount of sweat. It was quite thrilling! But that wasn’t even the climax... that came when the trail dumped us out onto a rock overhang which loomed 30-40’ over the massive blue hole. We were baffled. We thought we would walk up on a little pond-like aquifer, but no, this was one of the most astonishing natural beauties we had ever seen—and it was as if we were explorers uncovering a natural treasure all on our own. No one told us about it. We merely saw a note on our sailing charts that indicated a “blue hole.” Without any further description or instruction we set out to find it. Once we got our bearings we spent the better part of an hour debating on whether to jump in it! Kyle and I took turns standing on the edge in the jump position discussing all the factors and peering into the mysterious water. There were fish and sea turtles betting on us. It looked as if others had jumped and climbed out via a small trail beneath the overhang. Believe it or not, the kids were in full favor of us jumping! Kyle eventually said if I jumped then he would too. So then I felt compelled to see that through!
Then, bound to his promise—he jumped too!
Then, covered with mosquito bites, we booked it out of there!
Our next destination was Great Harbour. We felt it important to reach a place with good phone reception for checking weather and planning our return home.
We sailed all the way north, around the west side of the island and anchored in a grassy spot. The grass (vs. sandy bottom) creates the illusion of dark water as opposed to the crystal-clear iconic look associated with the Bahamas. The kids and I were not impressed, as we had become conditioned to pristine. Kyle reminded us grass = darker water and we snapped out of it and loaded into the dinghy to get to know the area.
Some nice people with an inspiring garden growing off the side of their sailboat were anchored next to us. They gave us some insights.
First, we explored the harbour and marina where we met two huge manatee.
Then we dinghied back out through the cut passing the anchorage as we motored around to the government dock.
There we tied off and made a quick walk to a local restaurant known to have WiFi. We were able to have local drink, eat a nice meal (not Bahamian, but still good!), use WiFi and watch the Miami news/weather. During our mini research session we decided to go for Cat Cay the next day.
The restaurant owner escorted us out the restaurant after our meal and accompanied us halfway down the street. As we walked, we discussed cruise ships, their negative effect on local tourism, some foreseen changes to better the situation and other sentiments. We promised to stop in next time and then we set out for our boat, final trip prep and bedtime.
It was getting dark as we dinghied back to Plan B. The kids had become so confident in boarding the boat and dinghy that it was like second nature to them. As soon as we would pull up to the side of the boat they would all scramble-climb up onto the deck and into the cockpit. This particular time, I lifted Orli up, but as she placed her feet on the deck the dinghy pushed away. I stretched out to spot her and simultaneously Noah (next to me, attempting her turn to climb up) accidentally fell straight over the side of the dinghy and Zion (who was halfway up) grabbed onto the tow rail and was left suspended from the side of the boat with his legs dangling in the water! What happened you may ask? Well, without any hesitation Kyle and I both jumped into the water after Noah. My first attempt to reach her was not a success. Thankfully her daddy was right behind me, grabbed her by her swim bottoms, pulled her straight out of the water (upside down) and handed her to me. I gestured at the dinghy which was drifting off and he quickly swam to retrieve it. Meanwhile, I joined Zion on the tow rail with Noah in my free arm. The boy and I held on with all our might until Kyle got back to us. One by one we got to safety.
I had jumped in with backpack on and dry bag not fully stowed so we did lose my phone and one camera lens, but thankfully all family members survived! Although everyone was safe and sound, Kyle and I were very shaken up as NONE of the kids had their life jackets on. I know I'm never going to hear the end of this from everyone, but I'm including this part of the story because it was an important turning point!
On this expedition, we had faced so many firsts, unknowns and fears, and had become so comfortable with dinghy/boat life which caused us to relax on our preset rules. The rules regarding lifejackets were immediately reinstated and a new rule was established--both parents must NOT jump in if a child goes overboard! We never realized the raw, primal instinct within us... an instinct that can overcome you so quickly and that is so powerful that it doesn't consider anything else!
Before we set out to cross The Bank we had to fuel up. That got us off to about a 10am start. Crossing diagonally from northeast to southwest put us in deeper water than when we had been in when we crossed from Bimini to Andros, but the crossing went well. It was a long haul, but that was expected. We did lunch and dinner while on the move and had the kids in bed by the time we anchored outside of Cat Cay. A beautiful BTC signal provided enough access to confirm the Gulf Stream conditions for the next day. We had a celebratory cerveza then slept for 5-6 hours before waking up for a sunrise departure.
When we woke up it was still dark. We could see boats in the distance heading towards us from the east. That was confirmation enough for me—I was sure they were cruisers also getting in on the decent weather for a smooth return from all their tropical adventures.
I made coffee and pop tarts as Kyle pulled the anchor and navigated toward the cut. I joined him for a massive last photo session and with our hearts full of mixed sentiments (excited for what was next, but sad to leave a place with so much left to explore) we said “until next time”—a sailor never says goodbye.
The return crossing to Miami got real with intense seas. It was as if the Stream was tattooing sailorhood on our arm and chanting—YOU PASSED! YOU PASSED!