Date: 27 Mar 97 11:41:44 EST
From: Gene Gruender <104675.2134@CompuServe.COM>
Subject: Rainbow Chaser in Bahamas

As I start this Rainbow Chaser is sitting at Allen's Cay in the Bahamas. I'll try to catch up a little on what has happened since leaving the Florida Keys.

We got to the Keys and Beth, who takes care of getting our mail to us at the Voyagers Mail Service, loaned us a car for a day to run our errands. We ran all over the place, made West Marine happy once again, nearly broke Beth's axles leaving the grocery store. When we got back we set Rainbow Chaser down another inch or two in the water.

We planned to leave on a Monday. We had to be in Nassau that Saturday to meet my nephew, Jason, who was flying in to spend 2 weeks with us. We really didn't understand the rule of not making plans to meet someone at a place you are not at yet when we made the commitment to meet him. Our deadline was closing on us.

Sunday we talked to Herb Hildebrand, who gives personalized weather forecasts for cruisers (at 2200 UTC at 12,359 KHz, upper sideband) each day. he told us we'd be better off leaving Tuesday afternoon, as the winds would be more favorable. That evening I started checking out my equipment for the trip.

Although we hadn't made the decision of whether to leave Monday or Tuesday, it was soon made for us. I have two GPS's on the boat. My Eagle had started acting a little weird again and had lines of the display disappearing. I was skeptical as to whether it would survive the trip. It had died on a delivery last summer and Eagle replaced it. It was the new, replacement, that concerned me. When I got my almost new Magellan 5000dlx out and saw fog inside the display, I knew I had a problem. It still worked fine, but with water getting in, it wouldn't last long.

I also had a computer in for repair. My Packard Bell Statesman laptop had gone berserk and I had an extended warranty from Best Buy. They'd had it a couple weeks and I hadn't gotten it back, I assumed that when they got it done, they'd send it to Beth, she'd forward it to me, and I'd only be out the shipping. Beth informed me that I'd owe customs on it if it was shipped. 33% of whatever they thought it was worth. My choices were to either get it before I left, or leave it behind. Monday I set out to solve both these problems.

I called Best's repair depot and explained the problem. They hadn't started on it, but promised to try to get it done that day, then ship it overnight if they were successful.

I hitchhiked 15 miles to the West Marine in Key Largo, where I'd just dropped about $500 the past Friday, to see what I could do about the GPS problem. For sure I was going to leave with a $149 Magellan backup. I had hopes of getting the 5000 replaced as well. If I'd bought it at West, there would have been no problem. I didn't, thought, so their in store policy wouldn't help me. I had no doubt that Magellan would fix it, but I needed it now, and I also had the Customs problem on it as well.

To make an hour of intense phone conversations short, I'll just say that Jim at West Marine and a fellow at Magellan finally worked out an agreement that West could swap it out and give me a new one. They'd take care of the return and I'd have brand spanking new one. I also bought the 2000. Yes, I now have 3 GPS's on board. I have no excuse for getting lost!

Monday afternoon Herb's weather sounded better and we got ready to leave. My plan was to leave about 3pm. We'd go out Snake Creek Pass south of Plantation Key and head for Bimini, some 90 miles away. Hopefully this would put us there during working hours so we wouldn't have to pay overtime to get checked in. The computer wasn't done yet, they had too overnight a part from California to Miami to fix it. They'd try to get it done and overnight it to my nephew, who could carry it to Nassau with him.

We got away on schedule. We went out the draw bridge, a first for us. Then we went out a very crooked pass, with about 6 twists and turns, then plowed yet another furrow in the bottom of the ocean. Low tide, shallow water, we do it every time.

The crossing was at first very smooth. Even well out into the Gulf Stream it was smooth sailing. The lake I used to sail on was usually rougher. About 10 at night, though, it started to kick up. The wind got to about 20 Knots, we were pounding straight into it, at least as close as we could sail. It became a very wet ride, and continued to be so for the rest of the trip.

We got out into the shipping lanes and there was a steady stream of tankers going North. We tried to stay out of their way, crossing several times as we went north.

By morning, we were close, but the wind and current left us about 10 miles out when we reached the latitude of Bimini. We ended up motor sailing the last few miles to cut down on the pounding and get in.

As we tried to pick out the entrance, we started to learn how nice all our bouyage system in the US really is. Bimini's system consists of - nothing. Just some coastline, where somewhere there is a break in the coral and shallow spots. We tried to compare it with a couple sketches in the guide book, but it didn't make sense. Oh, some did, but not all. One of the biggest mysteries was, where the heck was the radio tower that should have been visible for 23 miles? And the range markers that weren't very well described, where were they?

After a while Nellie started trying to talk me into calling one of the marinas on the radio and asking for directions. Real men don't do that! Well, I guess they finally do when they aren't sure whether they will run their boat onto a coral bank. And what did he tell me? They took down the radio tower! OK, go straight in across the bar to the center of the beach, turn to port (left), then stay next to the beach until you're in the harbor. With Nellie on the front, we slowly motored in. She kept asking how deep it was. "90 ft!" "You sure?" "Yes, 90 ft. Why?" "'Cause I can see the bottom real well!" Guess we're here.

We got checked in through customs, through immigration, neither of which was the hassle I'd been told it was, and we were in. I can say, though, that they are full of officialdom. I paid my $30 and got my cruising permit and fishing license. We were good for a year.

We walked around and checked out Bimini, which doesn't take long, then we went and anchored to get some sleep. This was about 2 PM on Wednesday. We needed to leave for Nassau to make sure we were at the airport Saturday afternoon.

The anchorage was pretty full. It is also in the direct path of the strong tidal currents. This was my first try at this Bahamas anchoring deal, and we gave it our best shot. Not good enough, apparently, because when the current changed directions and I swung around, I was aground again. I was out at 11 PM getting the anchors re-arranged again.

We left for Nassau, 110 nautical miles, about 7 in the morning. We had to take the same path back out. It is supposed to be 6 feet at the bar going in and I draw 4 and a half feet. No problem? With a couple feet of swell, I managed to hit the bottom pretty hard on the bottom of one of them. What a shock!

The clear waters sort of worry you when you are used to dirty water and not seeing what is there. Setting out across the Great Bahama Bank, mostly 15 to 20 feet deep with no land in sight, is a little different. The winds were all wrong and our schedule was tight, so we motored with the main up to steady us. We passed several boats, some Bahamas freight boats, a couple sailboats and just kept going. We trailed a line and caught 2 fish, but they were small and we didn't know what they were so we threw them back. We found out later one was a yellow goat fish, good eating, but never have identified the other. They are the last two fish we've caught so far.

We passed the edge of the Great Bahama Bank about midnight. We were still about 40 or 50 miles from Nassau.

Nassau is a big, busy harbor with a harbor control that you must call and get permission for any movement inside. I wasn't real excited about it, thinking it would be a lot of trouble. We read the cruising guide and found there is a harbor at the west end of the island called Lyford Cay (pronounced "key") which welcomes cruisers. There was an anchorage nearby and it wasn't far from the airport. We decided to try it.

Upon arriving there, it was a little fancier than we'd expected. It was full of mega yachts, 100 foot sailboats, and all sorts of stuff like that. We took on 40 gallons of diesel and asked about a slip. $1.90 per foot per day! This was out of our class by far. We couldn't anchor there, and the anchorage outside was pretty unprotected. We left for Nassau.

When we got to Nassau, it was full of cruise ships. 5 then and more came in. But the surprise was, there were a hundred or so cruising sailboats anchored all over. It was no problem at all, except for the poor holding bottom, (meaning your anchor won't stay put and hold you very good) and again the current just raged through there. There was a free dock for your dinghy and there was a Laundromat nearby. There were grocery stores, too, and most any thing you'd need.

We stocked up on groceries and we made it to the airport. Jason arrived, and he was carrying my computer! Actually it was the one I'm now typing on. We met a bunch of people, including Donny and Lisa, who'd just come back from Allen's Cay to try to get their water pump fixed. They told us of all the neat stuff there. The were going back in a day or so, water pump fixed or not.

We left Nassau on Tuesday morning and sailed to Rose Island, about 20 miles away. We worked our way in through a whole bunch of coral banks. After anchoring in about 12 feet of crystal clear water, we set off to explore it all.

There was one item of immediate interest. There was a Hunter 33 sitting on the beach. It had apparently wrecked recently, going onto the beach and breaking up. It had been stripped of most of anything worthwhile, engine, ports and steering pedestal. The mast was still there beside it, the shredded sails still attached. The hull was broken open and it made you realize just how fragile our boats are when they hit something solid. This really is a serious business.

We spent a couple hours there and a group, 3 boat loads, of Austrians showed up. They were having games on the beach, all sorts of stuff, and we went on to Green Cay, about 10 miles away.

We anchored there for the night. Nellie had planned to go to the island of Eluthera, which is a little north and east of Green Key. This is a boomerang shaped island, probably 100 miles or so around. I couldn't sail the course Nellie wanted. (A sailboat will sail about 270 degrees of possible directions out of a possible 360 degrees. You always need to go in those 90 degrees you can't sail directly too. It's in the book of sailboat rules, I'm sure.) We'd have to sail out a ways and tack back. I misunderstood where her final destination was and sailed on up north to Royal Island. She really wanted to go through a cut back about 20 miles, then go east. Oh well! We got to Royal Island harbor and tried to anchor. The guide book says it's poor holding. They were right. I'd drop my 60 lb. CQR anchor and just pull it al over the harbor. The same with the Bruce anchor. I finally got out my Fisherman anchor and rigged it up. (It's the one that looks like a double fishhook with a cross bar. Unhandy, but holds when some others won't.) It finally dug in through the grass and stuff and held.

Jason and Zachary went off exploring and came back with 3 large star fish. About 10 inches across. We made plans for the next day to go back south and go through a cut called Current Cut, which separates Eluthera and Current Island.

The next morning we motored down to the cut, as the sailboat rules were in effect and the wind was coming right from there. When we got there the current was coming towards us - we were to learn why it got it's name. As we started through at 6 knots, we slowed to 1 knot. 5 knots of current! It was really a rough trip through, but we did make it and our speed just held to about 1 knot most of the way. On the other side it opened to large body of water, about 30 or 40 miles across. It showed plenty of depth everywhere on the charts, so I put on the autopilot and started raising the main sail. About the time it was up, we slammed to a stop. We were sitting right on top of a bed of coral. It was everywhere! It took just a bit to get back off but we did manage. We had to backtrack about a mile or so, get back in the current and hug the beach to get around.

Once we got around there, we set sail across for Hatchet Cay. This was an enclosed bay that had it's opening blasted out of solid rock to make an existing lake into a harbor. The guide book said it had all sorts of stuff on land to see - and it had "poor holding". They were half right. There wasn't a damn thing to see and it was poor holding. I'd drop my fisherman's and my 60 CQR and just back all over the place. Several times. I finally went out where it was about 28 feet deep and got both of them to hold. Got them buried real good. After that I talked to the guy who was on the next boat and mentioned how poor holding it was and how hard to get the anchor to hold. He said he wouldn't know, he was on a mooring! What this meant was, his line went nearly straight down to a big weight of some sort. Mine went out at a very long angle. If the wind changed direction in the night, I'd swing way around and hit him. Damn! That doesn't work. Nellie called the marina and located another mooring and we got it - after I spent a lot of time and energy getting my anchors (multiple) out of the bottom.

After going ashore and looking around that area and finding there was nothing to see, we started re-planning. Eluthera had no nice beaches. We hadn't seen anything that interested us. This wasn't going well. How far was it to Allen's Cay? I could get there in 2 days, just sailing during the day. Tomorrow it would be Governors harbor, then Powell Point, then across Exuma Sound to Allen's Cay.

We set sail to Governor's Harbor, which had - you guessed it - poor holding! And not much to see. We stayed a couple hours, then took off to Powell Point. Powell Point had an anchorage marked on the charts, sort of in a little indentation of the coastline. It would be out of the wind on the lee side, and should do fine for spending the night. We got there just at sunset, too late to go anywhere else, and dropped the anchor. The 60 lb. CQR just skipped across the bottom, not even trying to take a bite. It was just self rock, with some rocks laying around on it. I got the CQR back in the boat, then put the fisherman out. It's point grabbed in a crevice and held, although there wasn't more than 3 inches of the point buried. In addition, the wind and current were different directions and we were anchored with the nose pointed away from the anchor. Talk about a restless night!

Very early the next morning I took off, sailing towards Allen's Cay, some 25 miles south west. The winds and seas kept building all the way across and by the time we got there we were riding waves of about 4 feet, doing 7 knots with just the jib. (And sailing! For once the wind was a direction we could use.)

We got the sails down and motored into Allen's Cay where there were about 20 other boats already anchored. Donny and Lisa were there and we anchored right near them. Donny showed me how to anchor for the currents there and we were set. I still had rope anchor lines on and I soon saw a problem. With the boat hanging on at all sorts of angles, it was plain that the lines were going to take a beating around the front of the boat, wearing them badly.

Allen's Cay has a couple things going for it. There are some pretty coral beds nearby to snorkel over, and there are Conch (I have no idea if that's the way to spell it, but snails in shells, the big ones) everywhere. People eat these awful things. I ended up cleaning a bunch of them after we got them off the bottom. That is also a mess. You end up with one hard hunk of white muscle to eat, but first you have to beat the hell out of it with a hammer to soften it up. We did a bunch of them. I tasted one piece. A very little one.

I spent the second night I spent worrying about the lines chaffing through. I also woke up about 2:30 am with the keel bumping the bottom. With the low tide and us hanging back into a shallow area, we once again were in too shallow of water. I had to get up and set a third anchor and winch us out a bit. The next morning I got out all my chain and replaced the line with chain. Now we can chafe all we want and we'll stay put. I sleep better.

They also have iguanas there. They range from about a foot to more than 2, maybe 3 feet long. If you pull onto the beach, they surround you looking for food. They'll nearly eat out of your hand, but we didn't try to feed them from our hands - it's rumored they can't tell the difference between fingers and food!

The water is crystal clear, the holding is great! It's really a nice place to stay. Donny had stayed a week or more, we stayed a couple days and then we both moved down to Hawksbill Cay.

This place is one of the prettiest places you could ever imagine. I don't think a picture could do it justice. The different colors of blue water, the sandy beaches, it's just hard to describe. And - the anchor holding is great!

We spent one night there and had to come back to Nassau. Jason's two weeks are up and he has to fly back to Missouri Saturday (This is Thursday night.) We'll get some more supplies and some important things, like a bucket with a glass bottom. (Or make one.) With that you can see the bottom just like there was no water up to, oh, 50 feet or so. It's really amazing. Then we'll head back to Hawksbill Cay.

We'll try to get another report out soon. One of the things that has surprised me is how busy you stay. We are busy from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep.

Gene Gruender
aboard Rainbow Chaser