FROM THE LOG
December 12 to 24, 2002
(Click on a photo for a larger version)
Having settled the problems with Bahamasair concerning lost luggage and refunds for unused return tickets we finally weighed anchor and motored the less than 10 miles to Bottom Harbour at Rose Island on the east side of New Providence island. It was a relief to get out of the city and this way we staged our departure to Allan’s cay the next morning, getting more favorable light conditions. It is a pain trying to avoid the coral heads in the approach to Nassau with the morning sun in your eyes. We were now five persons on board. Our sons and one prospective daughter in law would keep us company for six weeks.
The following days we
headed south along the by now familiar route on the western side of the
Exumas cays; greeting the iguanas at
snorkeling around the crashed contraband plane at
diving into the Thunderball Cave, featured in James Bond movies and
checking in with the pigs at
joked that here, at the “Bay of Pigs” we had already reached Cuba.
Next anchorage was at Little Farmer’s Cay. Because of strong easterly winds we abandoned the plan to head directly for Conception Island, 80 miles due east. Instead we continued southeast to George Town. From Farmer’s cay you have to proceed on the eastern (windward) side of the Exumas chain and to get out into the sound you have to use one of the cuts between the cays. In our case the timing was bad because we transited Little Farmer’s Cut on the ebb. However, because of the long distance to be covered that day we could not wait for slack tide. The strong tidal current against the 20 knots of wind produced high steep waves and at one point I was almost afraid that we would not make it. One moment the bow pointed up towards the grey morning clouds and the next we heard the propeller rotating in the air. It would have been very difficult to turn back in the narrow cut, especially with the raised main sail. That was an experience that I could have done without.
George Town is for many North American cruisers the turning point. You can get here without sailing over night. After this you are pretty much on your own. The town has also been nick named Chicken Harbor because quite a number of the arrivals find excuses for staying there the whole winter and then returning north in the spring. “Let’s postpone the Caribbean for the next year.” When we arrived in George Town last spring it was in the month of March and according to the official boat count the previous day there were 387 boats at anchor. This time we were early and the number was well below 100.
After two days in Chicken Harbor we took advantage of the clockwise rotating winds created by a passing cold front. First we sailed northeast in southerly winds to one of our Top 5 Spots in the world, Conception Island. The next morning after a brief walk at the magnificent beach we sailed south in 25-30 knots of northerlies. The general direction was towards the Windward Passage separating Hispaniola and Cuba. The distance to Santiago de Cuba was still 350 nautical miles and we would pass some of the Bahamas out islands.
We were lucky with the weather to start with. The “prevailing” southeasterly trade winds did not get established before we reached the Windward Passage and we therefore bypassed the rest of the Bahamas.
During the afternoon of the second day the weather changed. The sea got confused with wind waves and swell from different directions. The wind rose to 30 and gusting to 40 knots and wave heights built to four meters. Fortunately the wind direction remained north of east. A few squalls and a thunderstorm passed without much trouble. We made good speed through the Windward Passage between Hispaniola and Cuba and rounded Punta Maisi at 3 o'clock in the morning. A cargo ship came uncomfortably close astern and made a sharp turn to avoid us only after we showed them our 1.000.000 candela spotlight.
At daybreak on December 23 we were running westwards along the southern shore of Cuba sponsored by gigantic waves and steady 30 knot winds. We had a dilemma; the distance to Santiago de Cuba was still 100 miles, which was too much to be covered before dark. Consequently we had to slow down. We lowered the main and the mizzen and rolled in almost all of the genoa, but still made almost 5 knots speed over ground.
Going slow without sails to keep us steadier we had an uncomfortable journey the next 24 hours. At midnight we passed the American base at Guantanamo. The VHF suddenly came to life and a U.S. Navy patrol boat told us that we were too close and they wanted us to head 3 miles off shore. I managed to persuade them to let us continue without altering course, complaining that we had had a rough sail already even without making unnecessary dodging maneuvers. "Thanks for that and Merry Christmas".
On the morning of the 24 we entered the bay of Santiago de Cuba. Immediately when we were in sight of the marina we were called on the VHF and given mooring directions. Even though we were visited by eight (8!) different authorities everything vent very smoothly and friendly; Bienvenidos en Cuba.
It was time to start decorating and cooking for Christmas.