Monday 6 Jan, BHS day 7: A day full of navigational challenges – from Royal Island Harbour to Dunmore Town.
It’s much calmer today, and when we emerge in the cockpit we see several of the boats have left already. While we have breakfast a few more up-anchor and there’s only four of us left in the Royal Island Harbour.
With no other encouragement needed, we call Spanish Wells again to inquire on the availability of the mooring buoy, and what do you know, the 50ft one has become available. Brilliant.
As we are preparing to leave, a large yacht pulls anchor and puts their sails up even before they go through the channel. They must be nuts! Not only they go through with full mainsail up, but they also cut the corner to the entrance. Then, suddenly realizing their mistake, do a sharp u-turn right in the narrowest part of the channel. We guess they must have a shallower draft than it looks because no one in their right mind would be brave enough to pull that off.
We soon follow them, motoring ever so slowly through the tight and shallow channel. It feels less daunting crossing it in day light and with no wind pushing us into the rocks. But it’s again dead low tide and we pass with just 20cm below the keel to spare.
It’s 6nm to go to Spanish Wells, our next destination. With eyes glued to the chart plotter we approach the town. Depths near the town entrance channel show 2.2m in most areas and our Navionics chart does not show a clear channel to get to the entrance. A couple of days ago, an Australian couple showed us their Garmin chart which clearly showed a channel to follow.
Vaguely remembering where that was, we venture in at much slower speed as it shallows. And soon its only 2.5-2.6m. We touch bottom several times, some gently some not so, but we carry on anyway. Till we see 2.4-2.5m and we are now definitely scraping along the bottom rather than sporadically touching. No point scraping all the antifoul paint off the keel bulb, so we decide to anchor and wait for the rising tide.
Glen jumps in to check the bottom, and all is not lost: it’s just muddy silt and we still have some paint on the keel!
While at it, he washes off the black waterline Cloudy Bay has built up. That Nassau harbour was dirtier than it looked 🙁 The bottom of the dinghy is worse. It’s very greasy and even boatwash doesn’t seem to be taking that off. We suspect this grease was collected when we docked the dinghy in Atlantis Marina. The water was filthy there, with a layer of oil on top.
Our late morning coffee is taken waiting for the tide to rise. After an hour we start seeing constant 2.6m and we pick up the anchor and resume the cautious motoring towards the town. Or more to the point, attempt to! A few minutes and just a few hundred meters further on we are on the bottom again and it’s clear we have to wait for further rise in the tide.
The marked depths are all over the place on the chart, so Glen heads off in the dinghy to get his own measurements with the hand held depth sounder. When he gets back, he has a plan. The deeper water is actually very close to the shore, right where our Navionics chart shows a shallow bank!
The saying “third time lucky” proved to be accurate once more, as we are soon moving on a steady 2.6 depth and closer to the entrance channel in 2.7-2.8m, right where our Navionics chart says we could be growing vegetables right now, rather than happily floating.
Once inside the narrow Spanish Wells southern channel, we turn right towards the mooring buoys field. To our left we have the town quay with a fleet of quite impressive fishing boats, various types of warehouses and brightly painted buildings. We are reminded that Spanish Wells provides 50% of the entire Bahamian sea food catch, and this is the harbour area where the catches are landed, and the seafood processed.
A few minutes later we spot our mooring buoy “the one that stands out from the line, it’s a new one” as we have been instructed. We pick it up and we are safely moored in a good depth of water. Phew, quite an adventure to get here. Less of these, please.
While I prepare some food to snack before we head ashore to visit the town, Glen calls a couple of pilots listed on Active Captain to arrange one for the morning. Tomorrow is the last day with calm wind for a while, hence our only opportunity to make a move to Dunmore Town on Harbour island. But with our 8ft draft we can only get through the narrow Devils Passage on a high tide. Looking at our chart plotter info, high tide will be 7am. And after a couple of calls we do find Neil available and willing for the early morning job. Great!
Now time to go ashore and stretch our legs after 48h on the boat. But just as we are grabbing our bag to head off, we get a call from Bruno, one of the pilots who previously declined the piloting job for tomorrow. He tells us that morning high tide is actually 5am and it will be dark at that hour. But he offers the alternative of piloting us this afternoon, with the 5pm high tide. So we accept. Our priority is to visit the Harbour Island, so Spanish Wells will have to wait till we return. Another sudden change of plan, but we are good at that 🙂
With 1h30’ to kill till Bruno joins us, we debate whether we should go ashore or not. Not much time for that really. So instead, Glen heads off in the dinghy just to quickly asses the area. The feedback after his quick survey: it is a very interesting place, and very much a “white man’s town” as the young Australian couple had described it. Interestingly they all speak with an accent that resembles a Newfoundland accent. Hmmm, I guess we will definitely come back through here to explore at length.
Bruno, the pilot, arrives at 4pm in his boat. After quick introductions we drop the mooring line and head off out the eastern channel with Bruno at the helm and his boat in tow behind. We can almost hear Cloudy Bay protesting “what’s going on? someone is helming me for a change, and there’s something dragging behind me”.
Bruno is very chatty and quite a character. By his unusual accent we already know he is a local, and he soon confirms he has lived all his life in Spanish Wells. He clearly knows these waters inside out. And we hardly notice where we are going while listening to his stories. A very nice guy to have on board.
First we pop out of the reefs that surround Spanish Wells into the Atlantic, where we quickly feel the strong sea motion, following all that recent wind. Then we go very very close to the shore, through a narrow channel behind the submerged unseen reef. So close to the shore in fact, that we feel we will soon be on the beach! Glen says he would never have been bold enough to do this without a pilot.
Once through the Devils Passage the water calms down but dangers not over yet. We have to weave our way through more reefs and shallows all the way to Dunmore Town. Once in the clear, Bruno jumps off, back onto his boat, along with $120. The price to pilot us one-way.
We had, for a moment yesterday, thought to come here by ferry and do AirB&B for a couple of nights. But the prices started at $250 per night for bunk beds in a garden shed and ranged upwards well beyond $1,000 a night for a 1/2 decent place. So $120 for Bruno to get our own floating garden shed here was well worth it. Excepting the fact that I could have had a bath tub in an AirB&B!
We go the last half a mile by ourselves and anchor right between the two marinas which have more than a few super yachts in them. The village of Dunmore Town (which actually used to be the capital of Bahamas, would you believe) stretches up a hill and is speckled with small colorful Victorian properties. We are quite excited about going ashore but as the sun is setting we decide to leave that for the morning. Especially that there is an evening chill in the air.
And we feel we’ve already had quite enough adventure for one day, thank you very much.