Jamaica to the Bahamas

Captain’s Log May 12 to May 23, 2011

The Great Mango Run –

Jamaica, the run around Cuba, past Haiti, and The Bahamas

May 12: We moved to the dock early Thursday morning.  The Montego Bay Yacht Club has a long “L” shaped wooden dock extending out into the harbor.  Boats are end tied to the dock with their anchors holding their bows straight out away from the dock.  Each anchor has a buoy attached to it, so the area around the dock is peppered with potential hazards. We were assigned the only open space, which was on the eastern side of the dock and squeezed in between the dock and the sea wall near some condos.  It was tight, but I backed into the space twice and each time I was told to redo my effort and drop the anchor farther out in the narrow channel.   The third time I made the attempt I sucked a buoy into the starboard prop, the rope wound around the prop shaft and shut the engine down.  Of course I was now in a state of nervous agitation, but with currents and wind working on Odyssey and dirt from the bottom being churned up by our propellers, I had to keep going and the third time was the charm.  Once secure, “ChickenBack” the local diver went to work and cut the line and buoy off the prop.   Then the customs, immigration and agricultural officers appeared and after an hour or so we were all checked in to Jamaica.

While all this was going on we hooked up the electricity.  The inverter began blinking an error light.  I discovered that Jamaica is a 50 cycle country.  This required a different approach than I had previously encountered, but after a few hours of figuring things out all was well.  Meanwhile Adam, our nephew, showed up at the dock and the party began. 

As all this commotion was going on our British boat neighbor Andrew offered to take us on a city tour.  Within a few minutes we were all aboard his 1999 Dodge Ram pickup and rolling toward the “Hip Strip” of Montego Bay.  There we saw Jimmy Buffet’s famous Margaretville Bar, which ranks right up there with Bob Marley’s cemetery plot as a tourist attraction.  After seeing the original hotel strip, now in a state of decline because the new, bigger, better hotels are built farther out, we drove to the downtown area and fresh food market.  Most of the tourist areas of Jamaica are located on the North West shore of the island and they are very nice and highly developed.  The rest of the island is more rural and traditional with a second world standard of living.  Jamaica is a beautiful island, with a wide variety of beautiful flora, mountains and very friendly people.  It seems like a Garden of Eden.  The downtown area is interesting with brightly colored buildings and the hustle and bustle of people going about their business.  Then we turned onto a side road, all lumpy and bumpy with dust in the air, cars trying to pass each other amidst the chaos of it.  This was the market.  Andrew pointed out that the carts many of the men were pushing originated in the sailing days and were used to move cargo off the docks.  They were funny looking things: tiny hard rubber wheels about 4 inches in diameter supporting a crudely built wooden platform about 6 feet by 2 feet with a push bar and steering wheel on one end.   Cars were pulled into spaces with their trunks or rear lids open and the cars were full of one or two types of vegetables or fruits.  A few men were walking around with large hats filled with tools or light bulbs or other things for sales.   Being there was a lot of fun.  After buying a supply of provisions for the boat, we headed for a very exclusive hotel and residence area.  Apparently Ralph Lauren has a place there, and I was told you can rent a villa there for $10,000 a day.  We only had lunch, but it was a beautiful place overlooking a lovely bay.

May 13:  Another lovely day, with high light clouds, 80 degrees or so, a light breeze, and moderate humidity: much more livable than Panama and Costa Rica.  In the morning I had about 3 or 4 hours of maintenance to do: change oil, filters, and clean the engine room. Rebecca and Anna went off to provision the boat from the local MegaMart.  I spent a few hours on the internet and later that afternoon, Andrew invited us for a sunset cruise on his racing sailing yacht.   We loaded all of our snorkeling gear aboard his yacht, along with an ample supply of snacks and beer, and off we went.  It was a lovely day and the sails filled with air as we cruised out of the harbor and out to sea.  We sailed east about an hour or so and then turned back toward Montego Bay.  Our goal was to tie to a buoy at Doctor’s Beach and snorkel, then have Champagne at sunset.  Everything went as planned until Andrew ran over the anchor buoy, the rope wound around his propeller, and the engine stopped.  Anna and Adam went into the water to cut us loose, but eventually Andrew went in and finished the job.  That evening A&A went partying with Andrew on the Hip Strip.  They got home at 5 AM.

May 14:  Rebecca and I spent almost the whole day on the internet.  It takes almost a whole day to upload pictures to the website.   Andrew was preparing for the big beach party in town to be held that evening.  He takes his yacht to the Margaretville Bar, which is on the water, and brings it stern to and anchors it at both ends.   He lowers the rear access ramp and then waits until sometime after midnight for the party to start.  At this point in the story I will let your imagination take hold.  That morning we were awakened around 4 AM by the sound of pulsating, deep bass beats emanating from the beach about 5 miles away.  Wow!  What a party.

May 15:  The main attractions of Jamaica are the resort hotels with their beautiful golf courses and fabulous architecture.  Other than that, there really isn’t much to see, but we wanted to get out and see the countryside anyway. The three tourist centers here are Negril, Montego Bay, and Ochoa Rios. Today we went to Ochoa Rios, about 1 ½ hours to the east.   The main attractions here are the Dunn’s River Falls, which are very beautiful and well worth a short stopover, and the various botanical gardens that display the brilliant flora of Jamaica.  We got back to the marina about 5 PM and began preparing for our departure that evening at 7:30PM. We were planning to cruise at night to avoid the winds caused by daytime thermals, and make the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti at night also. The route we were taking could be very rough, so we wanted to reduce the risk of rough seas as much as possible.  Ocean Bob, as we affectionately refer to him, told us that we should expect very good conditions on our passage.   If everything worked out as planned, we would make Clarence Town on Long Island in the Bahamas on the morning of the 18th. 

We untied at dusk and started out of the harbor with buoys or shallow water on either side.  Just as Odyssey was in the most vulnerable position, the anchor windless froze up and I couldn’t continue to raise the anchor.  We didn’t know how much of it was hanging below the water line.  It was a very bad situation. I didn’t know what to do.  For about 15 minutes Rebecca took over the helm and tried to hold the boat in its present position while I tried to figure out what went wrong.  I reset the breaker, which is under the floor in the forward stateroom.   When that didn’t work I raced to the pilot house to find the book on this piece of equipment and read the troubleshooting section.  Meanwhile the boat was drifting around and it was now dark.   Men on the dock were screaming at Rebecca to bring up our anchor, turn a switch, and do something so that we didn’t tear up their anchors: something had to be done.  I asked Rebecca to see if she could move Odyssey out to deeper water, on the premise that if she couldn’t we were in fact anchored, which was OK.  If she could move the boat, which she did, then we could be situated in safe water.  That problem solved, we then readdressed the windless. I called James Leishman at Nordhavn, and fortunately his plane had just landed and his cell phone was on.  He drove down to the docks and went aboard another 55 Nordhavn to see if he could figure something out.   Meanwhile Adam and I tried to raise the anchor manually according to the instructions, but this didn’t work well.  So we resorted to the last option, reading the manual and reviewing Odyssey’s wiring diagram.  We found that the circuit breaker was the first line of defense, but that an 80 amp fuse was somewhere between the breaker and the motor.   Anna and Adam climbed into the chain locker, and found some electrical stuff, but it wasn’t the big breaker.  Then I found the fuse and it was fried.  I didn’t have a spare onboard, but we borrowed one from another piece of equipment, put everything back together and fired it up.  Up came the anchor and off we went at 2230.

May 16 & 17: The total distance of this passage was about 450 miles and took us about 2 ½ days.  The seas were flat, blue and beautiful during the entire trip; in fact we have been in marinas that had more sea surge that we experienced on this passage.  We had a full moon both evenings that we were at sea, and each night it cast a silvery brilliance across the ocean’s calm surface.  We were also fortunate to have a strong current helping us on our way: we made 8.5 knots burning less than 6 gallons per hour. 

I was admiring the sunset on the 17th when all of sudden we heard the wiz of the fishing reel.  Adam sprang into action and ran to the stern of the boat while I slowed the boat to a stop.  Adam grabbed the rod and started reeling for all he was worth, but the big fish fought back.  Adam didn’t think he could do it, but after about 15 minutes eventually he wrestled a beautiful Wahoo into the locker.  He was thrilled and astonished by its size and beauty.  What a fish!  It must have been around 40 pounds.   I fileted it and it nearly filled our refrigerator.

May 18 & 19:   At 0900 we put in at Clarence Town, the capital of Long Island, Bahamas.  The waters of the Bahamas are generally very shallow, and this harbor offered only a few areas over 6 feet in depth.  Most of it was reefs and sand bars.  We moved into the harbor very carefully, looking about for colors in the water that could be identified as rocks or very shallow areas.  We called the little Flying Fish Marina, but there wasn’t acceptable space so we tied up at the cement, industrial government dock.  Within a few minutes Ms. Gibson, the harbor master, appeared and told us the dock fee was $6 a night, which we promptly paid.  She offered to take us to a market for provisions, and after calling the customs office to report our arrival and arrange an appointment, we were on our way. 

The island is flat and low, mostly coral sand and reef material as is common in this part of the world.  The island is covered by low shrubs and short palms.  The water is a dazzling blue green, with color variations caused by composition of the sea floor.  After visiting the store, Ms. Gibson took us to Dean’s Blue Hole, which is a lovely small inlet with a vast white beach.  In one area is a large coral cliff surrounding the blue hole, an area several hundred feet in diameter, about 650 feet deep.  The top of the cliff is green with vegetation, the rock is a steel grey, the hole is deep blue, and the surrounding water is aqua covering white sand. It was a beautiful scene.

We came back to the boat and waited for the police and customs officials.  They came about 1630, so most of the day was spent on the boat.  As I mentioned, we were tied up to an industrial dock so the only way to board Odyssey was to crawl over the rail from the dock.  It was a challenge for all of us, but a real obstacle for the customs officials.  One of them was a gentleman about 300 lbs., the other was a middle aged overweight women in a straight skirt carrying a large revolver.  They were very perplexed having to come aboard and stood around looking over the situation for at least ten minutes.  Finally they decided to do what we had done, but the men had to go below to allow the lady to hike up her dress to get over the railing.  They insisted upon coming aboard in part because an inspection is part of their official requirements, and because we arrived from Jamaica, which they consider an origin that warrants suspicion and usually a very thorough inspection.  The lady officer followed Rebecca through the boat carrying the revolver and inspected each room.  The heavy officer stayed with me and filled out papers.  After an hour or so they departed and we walked over to the Flying Fish Marina for Conch Fritters, a beer, and a chance to get on the internet.

The next day was pretty laid back.  Anna and Adam washed Odyssey and then went for a swim off the back of the boat.  After a few minutes they decided to swim across the bay to the marina, a distance of perhaps ¼ mile.  We watched them for a while and were a little concerned that they were so far out.  We lost track of Anna, but we thought she probably found someone to talk with at the marina.  A few minutes later we saw her walking down the road toward Odyssey.  This was a least a ½ mile walk from the marina.  We called to her and she said that she was very frightened because several large sharks had been close to her in the water.  She got out of the water as fast as possible.  The people in the marina said that they throw fish entrails into the water near the marina when they clean fish; hence the sharks.  Meanwhile Adam was still in the water, although he was coming back toward Odyssey.  We yelled to him that there were sharks in the water, that’s when we found out how fast he could swim!   Later that day when Adam and Anna went to the Blue Hole for more swimming, I saw one of the sharks swim by the boat as I peddled on the trainer.  It was a big boy as reported. 

That evening we left on the 2200 tide for George Town on Exuma about 70 miles away.

May 20 & 21: We arrived at the Exumas at 0800.  Cruising in these inland seas requires great care as they are shallow and full of rocks and coral heads.  Special care should be taken to come and go on high tide if possible, especially for a vessel of our draft.     The entry to George Town requires careful attention, but it is not too difficult if made during daylight hours so that the configuration of the bottom can be seem.  Anna was positioned on the bow pulpit to look for danger.  We anchored outside of George Town about 0900, having avoided any potential mishaps.  After a few hours of rest, we had lunch onboard and later took the tender to town for cocktails and dinner.   There is a small harbor in GT, but the main section of the town surrounds a lake that is accessible by dingy via tunnel/bridge from our anchorage.  George Town has a population of about 1,000 people, very big by Bahamian standards.  One of our friends told us about the Peace & Plenty Bar.  There are three bars and two restaurants in the little village, so after a mile or so walk around the lake, we saw GT and the available locations that could provide entertainment.  It was a lovely afternoon with the two young ones.  They enjoyed a few PinaColdas and a little shopping in the craft market.  It was a lovely day.

May 21 & 22:   We spent most of the day at the “Chat’n Chill” beach bar not far from our anchorage.  It is located on a lovely pink sand beach with a sand bar extending about 100 yards out into the bay and registering temperatures of about 85 degrees.  A beer, a Cuban cigar, sun and sand; what more is needed for a nice afternoon.  In fact it was so good we went back the next day after cleaning the black marks off the boat caused by our rubbing up against the sea wall at Clarence Town.  This time we went first to the Exuma Sound side of the island and walked a beautiful pink sand beach that was about a mile long.  The aqua color of the water contrasted with the deeper blue of the ocean, the greenish-brown of the coral heads, the pinkish sand, and the green vegetation was breathtaking.  Later that day we pulled the anchor and headed for Nassau 135 miles away.  We decided on an overnight passage because it cuts the boredom of an open water passage and gives us more quality time at desired locations.  The only problem is that we have to plan our transit so that we make critical and difficult passages through shallow or rock infested waters during higher tides and sunlight so that we can pass over and/or see the hazards.

May 23:  We arrived in Nassau Harbor at 1300 and tied up at the Hurricane Hole on Paradise Island.  This place tops the charts on expenses: $4 a foot for dockage, $.25 /gallon for water, and $.65/kilowatt for electricity; by far the most expensive place we have stayed and not all that nice.    After lunch we walked over to the Atlantis Hotel complex.  It is a very large place with its own yacht harbor that attracts the largest yachts from Florida, a manmade lagoon for swimming, and a Mayan Temple out back for those who haven’t seen the real thing.   I am not sure what Mayan culture has to do with the lost continent of Atlantis, but hey, this is Hollywood.   Of course there is a casino, a huge hotel, and loads of shopping opportunities.  Besides the harbor, the only thing that isn’t de rigueur for a big theme convention hotel is the aquarium, which was very interesting.  The big surprise for us is that we really enjoyed seeing the place: I think we have been out in the boonies so long a little civilization, such as it is, is looking good.  It must be time to jump ship and go home for a while.


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