Rose Island

There will be times on our trip where we will look back on the places we will visit to update the “best of so far” list.  Without much doubt, Rose Island will continue to figure strongly for however long we travel.

What do you need?

  1. Nice safe sheltered anchorage with no swell and good holding– tick
  2. Lots of white sand – tick
  3. Not too many to share the scenery with – tick
  4. One of the best snorkelling areas in the whole of the Bahamas – tick

And just for a little bit of kudos

  1. Used for a Bond film (because it is so gorgeous) – tick

Bit difficult to see how we were going to go wrong.  Oh and did I say the weather was near perfect too? So smug……

We arrived at Rose and anchored off.  Flip and Eleanor did the anchor check and immediately found a coral head teeming with fish including a Lion fish.  These are kill on sight in the Bahamas.  As foreign invaders from sometime in the mid 90s, they are killing vast numbers of indigenous fish breeds.  Unfortunately it was too deep to try the Hawaiian spear out so it got a reprieve.

The next morning we headed ashore with a mix of paddle board, dinghy and swimming.  The snorkelling kit was deployed and all the grown ups enjoyed time on the reef just off the beach.  We also spotted some dive boats anchoring about 400m off at another reef which we paddled out to for a gander.  Brilliant – the Bond site! I’ve included a fair number of photos here which I think you will get the idea from.

Over the next couple of days it really was repeat as necessary.  Lots of time in the water, lots of sun and great fun on the beach.  Pretty easy life really.

My memorable event was how well Eleanor’s swimming and confidence in the water has come on in the short time we have been out here.  Flip was swimming back and forward to shore from the boat for exercise and Eleanor announced she wanted to join her. Having done 125m in a pool before as her longest swim, we were a bit cagey but said she could try it as long as a safety boat and paddle board went with her.  There was no need to worry.  550m later in open sea and against the wind, she stepped ashore with a big smile. She then jumped back in with her snorkelling kit and swam for another hour.

Mum and Dad pleased to announce they have bred a fish……

All good things have to come to an end and so we moved down to Nassau Yacht Haven to celebrate Xmas.  However, two days in Nassau were more than enough.  For the Swift’s last day in the Bahamas with us, guess where we went back to?  And it was still as near to perfect as you would want……

Thoroughly recommended.

Spanish Wells to Rose Island

Although we had had a great time up in Eleuthera, we had a timetable to meet to get the Swifts back to Nassau on the 27th Dec.
With an iffy weather forecast, we decided to start moving S, stopping on the way wherever we fancied.
We sailed E and had a look at Royal Island, somewhere all the guide books say there is a marina but having talked to Tom at the Shipyard, where there very definitely isn’t. It is sadly a fairly typical tale of the times. Everything was planned, big money already to make it an island paradise with cruise ships lined up to arrive. Then recession hit and the money bailed out. It remains a beautiful anchorage, largely unspoilt although for how long, who knows.
We anchored out about an hour’s sail SE of Spanish Wells and had a quick explore on a “treasure island”. Not sure if a couple of beat up conch shells really count as treasure but the kids were happy! Stewart was less so having been followed back to the boat by a 6 foot Barracuda having gone out paddle boarding. It then stuck around the boat, slowly circling and refusing the lures Ed threw at it with the fishing rods.
We had the intent of doing a long run SW the next day to the delightfully named Booby Island. I’m not sure who thought it was funnier, Thomas (age 4) or Ed and Stewart (allegedly grown ups). As with all great plans, it didn’t survive contact with the enemy; that being the wind or rather then lack of it for much of the day. We did manage a few hours very slow sailing, pushing out into the deep water in the hope of catching dinner (result – one very small Black fin Tuna which we returned) before running out of time and stopping inside at the SW end of Current Island. Perhaps the name should have given us a clue. With 3.5knts measured running at one point, it probably wasn’t the best of anchorages but it was flat water and sheltered from the strong E that set in overnight so it was put up with. A tired skipper ensured an early start. Good holding maybe but not good for the nerves!
We had a good run S the next day. With a few days to spare we had decided to stop at Rose Island just to the NE of Nassau. Famous for its role as the main reef used for the James Bond film, Thunderball (the original one) it sounded like a good option. It was.

Dunmore Town, Harbour Island

Harbour Island has the accolade of being the prettiest island in the Caribbean, with a gorgeous three mile pink coral sand beach, reputedly one of the cleanest and widest in the Bahamas.  Dunmore Town, the island’s only settlement, is over 300 years old.  It was laid out by Lord Dunmore in 1791, the then Governor of the Bahamas, who had a holiday home there.  The town has countless colourful, charming cottages, some of which date back to the prosperous shipbuilding days of the late 1700s and early 1800s.

With great reviews in several of our guidebooks, we decided that Dunmore Town was somewhere we would definitely like to visit.  Unfortunately getting there was not going to be straightforward.   There is a passage along the northern shore of Eleuthera, known as The Devil’s Backbone (there’s a name that fills you with confidence!) and all our guides and charts highly recommended the use of a pilot (typed in bold, underlined, font 28).  We can take a hint….  Jock Morgan (aka Bandit) is a local Spanish Wells resident who seems to have a hand in all things nautical and is the primary pilot in the town.  We spoke to him on our initial arrival, then on picking up one of the moorings to the east of the town and his name then popped up when we enquired about pilots in Pinder’s Supermarket on the harbourside.

A quick radio message to him on the Monday morning and we were on.  Bandit arrived at noon as agreed, with the addition of a pack of home baked cookies for the girls from his wife – they know how to make friends!

The journey round was interesting, to say the least.  At points we found ourselves so close to the shore, it was alarming.  Bandit guided us round perfectly.  I looked at our location on the chart a few nervous time and we were bang on centre of the channel.  He did it by eye.

We arrived at Valentine’s Marina about an hour and a half after leaving Spanish Wells.  The marina is part of a marina and resort complex so is very well served, with a restaurant, bar, shops and (most importantly) swimming pool.  With the imminent arrival of my sister and family, we had a quick turnaround with a clean-up, laundry, quick dip in the pool for Hannah and showers.  A couple of hours later they arrived safely from North Eleuthera airport on the daily flight from Nassau with Bahamas Air.  After much excitement from five small children, we managed to get them all on board and into bed at a fairly reasonable hour.  Sadly we were parked up next to a rather more sumptious boat than ours and I feel that Thomas, although impressed with our boat, kept eyeing up our neighbouring 150 ft stinkboat of a neighbour with a little bit of jealousy.  I think we all were!!

Day one was spent on the aforementioned pink beach – it truly was glorious!  We staked our claim on a patch of the beach in between the loungers and parasols belonging to the hotels having a prime position overlooking the ocean.  There was sea, there was sand and there was most definitely the sun so everyone was happy.  Hannah managed to befriend two little English girls (Scarlet and Marina) and so the kids spent most of the afternoon at the water’s edge playing happily in the sand.  The day was finished off with a trip to the pool, which conveniently washed off all the sand!  Hannah again made friends, this time with Nora, whose parents owned the dive shop at the marina.  Her grandparents were visiting and they brought Nora down to our boat for a visit, much to Hannah’s delight, and this was then followed with a reciprocal visit to Nora’s house.

The following day was spent very much like the first – it’s a hard life! Much excitement was had, though, with a manatee coming up to the jetty and drinking from the fresh water hose.  She was apparently a regular and was pregnant.  She had a band around the top end of her tail where marine biologists are able to attach a locator in order to track her movements.  The kids found this all very exciting, as did we!

The girls’ social life continued to thrive with an invite to the local dance class from Nora and, as we met Scarlet and Marina at the beach again, they were kindly invited round to their house.  Their parents had recently bought a beautiful cottage on the island as a holiday home and were busy sorting out architects, shipments and the like.  We had a great sociable afternoon and met yet more lovely people.

On our final morning we managed one last dip in the pool and a trip to the harbour to take some photos of the lovely old buildings.  Bandit then arrived for our return trip, armed with fresh bread this time!  Harbour Island was well worth the visit and if we ever win the Euro-millions, I know where my holiday home will be.  However we were looking forward to getting back to the quieter, more laidback life in Spanish Wells.

Merry Christmas!

We would just like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  Many thanks to our family and friends for their ongoing support over the last year in the run up to this amazing trip.  I’m not sure we would be where we are without it!

We will be making the most of wifi access in Nassau and updating our activities over the last couple of weeks but we thought we would include a few photos to show you what we have been up to.  Having an absolutely great time with Uncle Ed, Auntie CeeCee, Thomas, Benjamin and Alexander.  Sun, sea, sand and snorkelling pretty much sums it up!  Oh, and Santa of course!  Presents have been wrapped, Rum, carrot and cake have been left out for Santa and Rudolph, Motown Christmas album is ready on my ipod – it must be time for bed.  Looking forward to Christmas morning with five little excited children.  Merry Christmas x

Spanish Wells, Eleuthera

Having spent my four hour watch in the night watching the wind slowly drop and the boat get slower, it was with some relief that we arrived in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera.  Watching the Plotter next to the helm was a little like the opposite of playing beat the satnav – the closer we got, the slower we went.  Fortunately I had a good book on my kindle (ah, they joys of autohelm!) and an active imagination to keep me going.  It took me a while to realise that the noise coming from behind me was actually the dinghy and not, amongst many things that my brain came up with, a whale following us.  It is random the train that your thoughts take when you are on your own and slightly sleepy.  I had thought about writing a book, ‘Ramblings from the Helm’……. It was also a massive relief that Stewart managed to be on watch with the squally winds as I am not entirely sure what I would have done – apart from yelling ‘STEWART!!!!’

Anyway, we arrived just before 8am, pulled alongside at the marine centre and filled up with diesel (slightly more expensive than the US at over $5 a gallon!).  Stewart also asked advice about our outboard motor that had decided to give up the ghost for no apparent reason, but with noone available to look at it for three days, we decided to try a little more self help.  We then booked into the marina and resort, which was currently undergoing some extensive renovations and so was a lot like a building site and not so much a ‘resort’ but at least there was a (cold) shower.

Eleuthera is made up of a series of islands stretching more than 90 miles N to S.  Spainish Wells is the island at the top of the Eleuthera chain and is, conveniently, home of one of six supermarkets in the whole of the Caribbean.

Following the rather chilly shower, we all set out to explore the island.  At two miles long and less than a mile wide, it wasn’t going to take long – a golf cart (the popular mode of transport in the Bahamas) was going to cost $50 a day so we decided to save that money for a marina at a later date and get some exercise instead.  For such a small island there were a surprising amount of cars , and quite nice ones at that.  What we noticed immediately, though, was the difference to Bimini.  Spanish Wells is a prosperous fishing community which supplies well over half of the Bahamas’ commercial crop of lobster, conch and fish.

The houses are well maintained and there is plenty to see wandering round the streets.  It is an extremely friendly community and we regularly got a wave from drivers of golf carts as they passed.  The locals are also generally forthcoming in offering lifts, as Stewart discovered once we ascertained that aforementioned outboard was most definitely beyond our repair.  He and Eleanor managed to get a lift to the boatyard and back whilst carrying the outboard.  The outboard engine is essentially the ‘family car’ for all live-aboards and without it you are severely restricted in what you can do and explore , we faced a choice.  We either threw money and time at attempting to repair the engine (a month to get parts before we started to find the fault), or we made the decision there and then to purchase a new one.  We called a Mercury dealer in Nassau.  We expected the price to be exorbitant but in fact it was pretty reasonable, even with ‘express’ delivery on the boat leaving Nassau the following morning .  The only issue was then having to use the one Mercury dealer on the island and whether they would try to charge us a higher price as we really had to do business through them.  Following a bit of negotiations on collection, Stewart managed to get the engine at the quoted price and ensure that they prepared and serviced it ready for our use.

After a night in the marina, we chose to go for much cheaper lodgings on a mooring at the east end of the harbour.  Managed by Jock Morgan, aka Bandit, they are ideally placed and priced (at $20 a night) for hopping onto the island in a dinghy (with a shiny new outboard!).

It was on said mooring that I started the celebrations for my 40th birthday.  Awoken at the usual early hour that is associated with birthdays, I then got to relax in bed while coffee and pancakes were made as apparently the present could not be opened until breakfast.  Stewart and the girls had bought me a Pandora necklace and a lovely silver shell charm with  a small starfish on.  I also managed to remember (and find) all those cards/presents that family and friends (all much more organised than myself!) managed to get to me before we left.  They were all massively appreciated!

Following breakfast, we took out our newly purchased inflatable paddle board.  Conditions were perfect in terms of little wind and no great chop on the water.  I tentatively tried it out first balancing on my knees and in my shortie wet suit (water was looking way too chilly if I were to fall in).  Surprisingly it was relatively easy to balance and so I braved standing up.  Steering was  another thing entirely and with Stewart trying to direct me from the boat, I felt like someone was trying to explain the offside rule to me and my brain would not just not engage but I am sure I will eventually get it!  Naturally Stewart picked it up straight away and Eleanor headed off with Stewart on the back happily yelling instructions at her.  She did particularly well.  We spent the rest of my birthday on the gorgeous pink sand beach to the north of the island.  The sand was amazingly golden (or pink if you look closely), the water was less than waist high out beyond 300m, the beach was deserted and so we had a lovely relaxing afternoon of swimming, building sand structures and reading books.

Whilst wandering back along the beach, we were again offered a lift and so headed to the East end of the island and ‘The Shipyard Restaurant’ that overlooks the mainland.  There is a delight at finding somewhere that has free wifi and a happy hour with two for one cocktails (with serious measures) at $6!   To say I had an awesome birthday and a sore head the following day is a little of an understatement.

 

 

 

S Bimini to Eleuthera

Having looked again and again and again at the forecast of numerous web sites, asked the locals and talked to other sailors, we decided that the promised weather window where the wind would go into the N, enabling us to push E and a bit N to get us into the Bahamas proper was nigh. Having pushed off and parked up to the S of S Bimini we decided that rather than fight the big seas likely to be in our face to be found in deeper waters, the shallows of the Great Bahama Bank looked rather good.  This meant that we would take a bit of a chance that the wind would allow us to get NE but any way we looked at it we needed to get moving with our ultimate aim to reach Eleuthera, about 150 miles to the E before the weather turned again.

We had a quick run S to allow us to miss the very shallow bank running S from Bimini and then having passed the Wreck Sapora (one of the great dive sites in the Bahamas – an old rum smuggling boat from the 30’s, smashed up by the USAF in WWII as a bombing  site) we turned E and moved on to the Bank.  It did feel strange running in no more than 15 feet of water for much of the day, the bottom very clear but it did mean practically no seas which meant a pleasant sail.  We were joined for a while by a small pod of dolphin, much to the girls’ excitement.  They stayed for 15 minutes.

We decided that rather than run through the night, we would anchor on Mackies shoal, a little over half way across the Bank and well out of the established routing for stink boats taking the quick route to Nassau.  Again it felt a little bizarre being able to anchor some 40 miles from the closest land in little over 10 feet of water!

The next morning was perfect.  A northerly wind allowing us to point a lot higher than we had been able to the night before and the ability to direct route for the Berry Islands.  With us starting to wander into deeper water, we were able to deploy the heavy fishing rod for the first time.  First catch a pathetic little beast; next one was a Barracuda!  Although we have been told that Barracuda are pretty safe to eat here in the Caribbean, we have heard of the odd horror story on eating the top of the food chain in regard to Ciguatera, a really nasty toxin that concentrates in some reef fish with very very nasty long term health effects.  At only 3 feet long and maybe 8lbs it probably wasn’t big enough for a local take anyway.  We hooked one more a little later and this one really did need the dodgy groin rod support (see photo of H modelling it!).  It was a lot bigger and gave me a 20 minute work out to get it up to the boat.  Sadly we lost it as we were getting the gaff ready to pull on board.

Unfortunately, the northern islands in the Berrys have been taken over by a variety of shipping companies and when we got to the Stirrup Islands, where we were to have a stop, we found that our nice quiet anchorage was anything but.  We were greeted by three enormous cruise liners, merrily ferrying their cattle back and forth from their “island paradises”.  Royal Caribbean are the culprits here. Thankfully we arrived at the wonderfully named Slaughter Harbour, a huge sheltered pool between two islands an hour before dark so the exodus back to the ships was quick, leaving us in peace.

With very quiet wind, little current and 6 feet under the keel, it was a perfect place to start getting the girls into their snorkelling gear to pick up confidence.  Eleanor had no problems and was soon jumping off the boat in full gear, racing around to the back to climb back on with a huge grin before starting the whole manoeuvre off again. Hannah needed a little encouragement and a reminder that with the wetsuit and gear on, the object is to just float on top of the water rather than thrashing the arms and legs around (much her normal style).  However, we were all soon happy and found a very large hermit crab, some sort of sea slug and the obligatory selection of small fishes.

Day three of this trip found us with practically no wind, a NE swell running in from the Atlantic and mixing it with some large ships using the gap between Abacos and the Berrys as a safe lane to reach the American coast.  We donkey’d for a few hours pushing N and E to give us a good angle (if the wind came in) to reach down into Eleuthera.  When the wind did come, it was perfect.  15knts and across the beam allowed us to get a move on. We knew that we would have to do a night run to get down to the Eleuthera and it seemed that the wind would finally be good to us and push us down there with minimal stress.

In our dreams……

About 0230, having slowly meandered in the right direction at a couple of knots with the wind from the N but dying to register only 3-5knots, I noticed some rather nasty looking black lines of clouds with what appeared to be almost tornado type cloud extensions coming out of them.  Quickly reefing, I felt pretty happy until the wind hit, coming from the SW at 25+ knots true!  A “what the hell” and a quick dump (of sails before anyone starts sniggering) later, we were lashed with some pretty wild winds and rain. With less than 20 miles to go to our destination we were back with the wind on our bow.

After the squall went through, leaving us with a completely reversed wind, things calmed down and we were able to time our arrival to the edge of the reef at first light. On the recommendation of Duane, one of the skippers at Fort Lauderdale, Spanish Wells was our finish point and we safely tied up at the Marine Shop to refuel and get our bearings. We noticed a huge difference immediately to Bimini.  Spanish Wells is a bustling port, home to most of the Bahamas commercial fishing boats and a pretty sea front.

We are now on a mooring at the E end of the town, owned and run by “Bandit”.  Not bad for $20 a day and all of 100m from the dock as well. In regards to the weather, it turned out that we timed our trip near perfectly but it is just as well that we chose to push through the night to get to Eleuthera.  The evening of our arrival and the next 36 hrs after that had weather that the locals term “rage”.  The huge breakers on the N side of the island hitting the reef were spectacular (we could hear them quite easily from 2miles away) but I was very glad to be in the shelter of the harbour when the gale went through.

Lessons learned:

Weather forecasts here are not worth the paper they are written on beyond 48 hours.

Although we did do so, it is always good drills that if you are thinking of reefing, you probably should have already, especially at night!

S Bimini

We were speaking to an American couple on the dock who had come up to have a look at Skylark. “Have you heard about the Shark research place on S Bimini”?  A surprised no was the answer.  It certainly hadn’t appeared in any of the literature we had seen and it wasn’t publicised on any of the Island hand outs we had picked up.  The Americans had heard about it by accident from a local they had been fishing with, had visited the day before and had thoroughly enjoyed it.

“You got to go at low tide” they said.  Easily done.

Although we had decided to push off from Bimini, we had plenty of time to fill on our last day and a quick trip to S island, which so far hadn’t recommended itself to us other than being where the airfield was, didn’t seem a bad idea.

We got the water taxi across at $2 a head and then the “bus” up to the shark centre.  It was no more than a couple of miles up the rough track before we were delivered to a low building beside some mangrove swamp.  We stuck our head through the door to find a few bright young things at lunch and were quickly told that the centre was on its once every ten day Rest Day so was closed.  They were all heading out to a site to dive with sharks. Typical.

After a quick debate, Chris, their Media (and fund raising) Manager, a Stanford graduate with a Masters from somewhere on the W Coast,  came out to say that he would very kindly take us round and show us the shark pens.  So after a quick bite to eat on their patio, Chris took us off to the sea to wade out to the shark pen where the Centre keep their baby sharks.

The Lab has been in existence for more than 30 years and looks primarily at Lemon and Nurse sharks, both using Bimini as a breeding ground.  The ones that he showed us were in the 2-3 foot range and were being studied before being chipped and let back out to their natural habitat.

The Lab has a ring of sub surface sensors around Bimini which can track the movement of any shark that comes back into range.  As well as that, the Lab staff are regularly out measuring sharks by hand (really!) in areas where they don’t have sensors so widening the amount of data collection.  They are trying to raise funds for another 20 sensors (at $2k a time) to greatly increase their electronic data capture. It is contributing some excellent research and a paper recently published showed that sharks did return after many years to breed and spawn at the site of their birth, much as Salmon do. Whilst the research is linked to Nurse sharks, the Lab believes that there could be read across to many other breeds of sharks.

Most of the staff are post grads working up Masters or PhDs and are there for a couple of years but there is a volunteer cadre for younger people (gap year types) wanting to get involved.  They pay $800 a month and get trained up on boat usage, maintenance and diving as well as getting to live and learn shark stuff with the appointed staff.  All up, the Lab can house about 26 staff.  It’s a small place so I’d say living conditions would be described as friendly!

Chris was excellent and charming.  Although I dare say some of the deeper biological insights went over the girls head, he held them fascinated for over an hour whilst we stood thigh deep looking at the different sharks he brought over.  We finished off back at the lab looking at some of the tracking technology.  Overall, fascinating, very well presented, extremely educational (tick off school for the day!)  and we were massively grateful for Chris to take time out off his day off to show us around.

NOTE FOR TEACHERS – Chris runs webcam classes for schools wanting to do projects on sharks.  His contact details are below. He said feel free to get in touch. A small contribution to their fund raising efforts would be gratefully received!

Chris Lang, Media Manager. Chris@biminisharklab.com

Website: www.biminisharklab.com

Facebook: Bimini Biological Field Station

We were offered a lift in a typical Bahamas vehicle – a bit battered! – back down towards the water taxi but took the chance to jump out and walk along the beach instead.  We came off the beach at the new marina/ come holiday cottage place on the SW side of the island.  Will admit, all very shiny but I was a little surprised to see just one guest in the whole complex and just three yachts. The yachts, two from the US and one from Colchester in the UK had all been stuck there since the middle of November when the weather turned bad.  Again they were looking for a weather window to get further E but seemed pretty happy if bored sitting it out at a fully equipped holiday village.  At $2.50 a foot per day (more than double what I had paid at Browns), I’m not sure I’d be that happy!

However, The Village did give us the opportunity to shut Hannah up. Having whinged since she arrived in the US that she wanted to swim in a swimming pool (NOT just the sea) she took the chance, stripped off to her pants and jumped in one of the pools she spotted.  No-one seemed to mind, she had a lovely time and we all left with a smile!

We made our way back to Skylark and pushed off to get on to the anchor to the sheltered S of S Bimini.  There seemed to be a good chance that we would finally have some weather that would allow us to push NE and we didn’t want to miss it.

A couple of hours trip from Browns and we were safely on hook looking at a fantastic sunset.  Next post – Bimini to the Berry Isles and beyond!