Sunday, 1 April 2012

Across the Great Bahama Bank

Although the weather was a bit rough, we decided to make a short run south to Gun Cay, ready to do the long passage across the Great Bahama Bank the following day. We looked at anchoring in Honeymoon Harbour, home of the famous friendly stingrays, but it offered too little shelter so we headed around to the lee of Gun Cay. The island is so low that it offered little more protection from a strong south westerly wind, but we hunkered down and managed OK for the night. OK that is until I looked out at about 2am and realised that the anchor had dragged and we were closer than was comfortable to another small yacht. Resetting the anchor in howling winds and darkness wasn’t a lot fun – the words of ‘There’s Got to be a Morning After’ kept running through my head for the rest of the night.
Sure enough, there was a next morning and we set out across the Great Bahama Bank, a big area of shallow sea between the Bimini chain and Andros, the largest island of the Bahamas. Mostly it is between one and four metres deep, so it’s important to plot your course carefully and to keep an eye on the depth.  The water is clear light blue, like a vast swimming pool. We made reasonable time, getting about 5.5 knots, but we were never going to make it all the way to the end of the bank, through the North West Channel and the fifteen miles to Chub Cay before dark, so we had to anchor out on the Bank. It was sort of exciting to be entirely surrounded by sea, with no land or other vessels anywhere in sight. As the sun set, more and more stars became visible – it was beautiful, though the wind did pick up during the night, and It was difficult to sleep having read all those stories about Bahamian freighters ploughing into boats at anchor on the Bank…. I slept on the deck with one eye open.

Strong winds again the next day as we set off at sunrise for Frazer’s Hog Cay, at the south end of the Berry Islands group. Only a handful of people live on Frazers, but it has a small marina called the Berry Islands Club where you can shower, eat, refuel and tie up to a mooring. We went for a bit of an explore round the island, which was mostly mangroves, scrub and a shallow tidal beach. Apparently it gets busy during the game fishing season, when the slips and chalets fill up and all the services that support it come back to life. We saw the island at its best on the morning we left; calm conditions revealed deep clear water and an abundance of life. We saw sharks slithering along the bottom at 20ft and fish everywhere.

We motored the 30 nautical miles to Nassau Harbour, directly into a light breeze. Our destination was visible many miles out, thanks to the huge pink towers of Atlantis on Paradise Island and the line-up of almost equally huge cruise ships just inside the harbour.

With its colourful history of piracy, slaving, drug-running and seedy waterfront activity, I had expected Nassau to look a lot more, well, seedy. What it’s mostly about, however, is boats. Boats of every size and description from the liners and mega-yachts to flotillas of charter yachts to tiny fishing boats to ancient rotting hulks that are anyone’s guess what they do. We docked at Nassau Yacht Haven in what appears to be the French-Canadian quarter, where the conventions appear to be 1. Very high speed entry into your slip and 2. Serious wine consumption any time after 10am.
A walk around the downtown area quickly reveals just how hard the Bahamas has been hit by the global recession. So many boarded-up houses and closed-down businesses. Lots of places surrounded by razor-wire because of unemployment and the corresponding rise in crime. The supermarket, museum and some of the restaurants recommended in our Cruising Guide were out of business or on the way out. It’s sad to see, especially after the conspicuous wealth of southern Florida. Still, there is plenty of energy and optimism here. You meet people like Roosevelt and Cheryl, who have come to Nassau from more remote islands to work hard at their fish shack and earn enough to  make a life for their family. The whole baby snapper fried in lime and chilli - washed down with ice-cold Kalik beer - was excellent!

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