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Underwater in the Abacos

Hellllooooooo……hellloooo ….. hello….

Welcome back to the Bahamas! Yes, I know I’m terribly behind on these adventures of ours. I hope to catch us up to present-day over the course of the next few weeks, which means a whole lotta bloggin. After the Great Hardrive Crash of 2016, I was morally defeated. It just happened to contain ALL of my hard work – edited videos and photos for this entire blog (past, present, future) GONE! My worst nightmare come true!

Thankfully I have a backup of the raw files, but the months of slaving away with naught to show was beyond upsetting. I had to distance myself from it all for awhile until emotionally ready to pick up the pieces. So the videos will be slightly behind, but I couldn’t wait anymore, so I thought I’d continue on with our infamous “Jake and Jill Adventures Saga”. We last left off in Hope Town, Abacos.

The alarm sounded much too early on this first of April, 2016. By alarm, I mean the sound (and feel) of small motor boats and fishing boats zipping by Bosco. Both Jake and I slept better than we have in months. But that just meant waking up was a real pain in the A$$.

The day was promising. Light winds and partly cloudy skies welcomed us as we pulled anchor and headed north this morning on our 16 mile journey; Great Guana Cay. One of the many thousands of small Bahamian islands. Its a tiny little thing in the grand scheme of it, but happens to be situated on top of one of the largest ocean-facing reefs in the Abacos. That means – good snorkeling opportunities, and maybe even some shark spotting if were lucky (or unlucky).

We began with a pleasant, albeit slow, sail. Headway slowed as the day progressed so we kicked on the motor to assist. Its been rare to have decent-weather for snorkeling and I really just wanted to be there already! We had to traverse over a rocky inlet to get out to the other side (ie – ocean side) of Great Guana. With a 4-5 foot swell and opposing current to work with, it wasn’t the most comfortable. We managed without a big fuss and ended up dropping anchor as close to shore as we could. It was at about 30 feet that things shoal up fast, so here we dropped.

With the incoming swell, the boat was a rockin’. It made us hustle to get our stuff in gear (dinghy, snorkel gear, wetsuits, lunch) and still took over an hour before we hopped in the dinghy. We were both very anxious for underwater exploring (and get off this rocking beast of a boat). We had to dinghy about a quarter mile to the reef, where there are mooring balls to tie up.

Ahhh that’s better! This is my happy place. The water was cold but it was so beautiful. Right off the bat I saw a school of barracuda – kinda scary but they had no interest in me. The coral was also AWESOME, but its so hard to capture the magic of this scene with the small handheld digital camera, that doubles as our video camera (since our original camera broke a few months ago).

After a couple of hours of drift diving off the dinghy, we were cold and ready to call it. Great Guana had some great snorkeling opportunities, I only wish the conditions were a bit more calm. Seems I’m always wishing for that!

Back onboard the boat, it was crazy. We were rocking and rolling so fiercely that we didn’t even bother to undress from our wetsuits before Jake headed up to pull the anchor and I got on the helm to steer us out of there. Less than 5 minutes we were off, back to the “inside” of the islands, where it was protected from surge and swell.

We chose an anchorage 7 miles south, called Archer Bay. Its huge, and perfectly situated to block wind and wave direction. Plus it is more out of the way, so hopefully no crowds to contend with. It was a bit of a wild ride, lots of jumping over wave crests but it was a blast. The sun was out, the wind was blowing enough so we could sail directly off the jib. So much fun!

All was great until we pulled in the anchorage. Jake went forward to do his thing, and just as I went to put the boat in reverse (to cinch down on the anchor), I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the dinghy was sitting weird in the water. It had scooted around to the port-stern side of the boat (normally it sits directly aft of the stern). And it was much too close to the hull, which means the line must be pulling weird, or perhaps stuck. My instinct was right, but I was just a little too late to stop my hand from turning down from neutral, to reverse, for just a split second, before my brain caught up and told my hand to move back to neutral. There was a loud squelching, almost squeeling sound, and I KNEW exactly what happened. The dinghy line was wrapped around the prop. It was just a split second (maybe less than that), but thats all it took.

I killed the engine and Jake jumped in with his snorkel gear to investigate. Sure enough, the line was wrapped, but thankfully not too badly. He did have to cut away the line (now we have a tiny little dinghy tow-line). The prop was all good and it took him maybe 2 minutes to untangle the madness. Thats never happened to us yet since we’ve been on our adventures, so it was bound to happen. I say, it could have been worse.

After that fun, we sat out in the cockpit, admiring the surroundings. Its felt like awhile since we got a break from crowds of people (tourists) or charters. This is nice. We decided to dinghy over to land and hike along the beach, hoping to comb for some interesting shells. While we didn’t find too many, we did see a really cute little hermit crab and some interesting rock features.

The evening was perfect. It was nice to sit back and enjoy the sunset from the cockpit, despite the fact that it was in shambles with all of our gear strewn about. No wonder we’re so exhausted today, after all of this activity without stopping to recover. The icing on the cake was that I actually had cellphone reception from which I could call my grandmother on her 93rd birthday. How cool is that?!?

April 2, 2016
The morning came and it was the first time (in a long time) that we didn’t plan to go anywhere, other than enjoy what is directly around us. It seems like the last few months, we only move to hide from weather OR to make miles before the next weather system comes in. So for a change, we got to enjoy an area for more than a day.

Jake made us scrumptious potato pancakes with fresh blueberries and bacon!!!! Talk about an improvement from canned fruit and oatmeal. With no threat of rain, we decided to have another fun day out in the water. This time, we would utilize Jake’s amazing Garmin watch (which we can sync with Active Captain) to plot waypoints for different snorkeling spots. Maybe we’ll actually FIND them, instead of flounder blindly (which is basically how it is when trying to spot these areas from above).

Before we left, we swapped out the spark plugs in the outboard, since we planned to go a bit farther than our norm, and didn’t want to take any risks. I decided not to bother with a wetsuit, and just stuck to my bikini and a long-sleeve rash guard, since I didn’t think we’d be out too long.

I was wrong. We ended up exploring 4 or 5 different areas throughout the course of almost 5 hours. And though the day started off cloudy, it ended up being very sunny and warm. My backside was red and raw by the end. But I was stoked that I got to play around and see all the beauty of the shallow-water coral, live starfish AND sea biscuits, tons of beautiful fish, rock cave features, sting rays and barracuda and pufferfish, oh my! What a magical world.

Before turning back, Jake wanted to check out the area that is the very tip of Archer, about 2 miles from where we are anchored. Its a bit of a risk going out so far, but we felt confident in our outboard. And while the supposed reefs were not to be found, we did have fun playing on a little beach cove that has clearly seen human habitation. There were piles of old conch shells and fire-pits strewn about on the shore. A vulture began to circle us, probably hoping we’d provide scraps from a meal. It was a pretty cool site.

Our second night was just as perfect as the first. The anchorage was calm and almost deserted, dinner was delicious (Jake’s famous Navajo Tacos) and we had an awesome time just sitting and relaxing. We did learn that the weather would turn evil by the morning, but its nothing we have to worry about tonight. We can just enjoy.

April 3, 2016
Jake and I woke up very early this morning, after having gone to bed before 8PM the previous night. We both slept pretty well, though I was hurting, or rather, my bum was hurting from the major sunburn I acquired after yesterday. Oh why didn’t I wear my reef-pants? I had to take a couple extra strength tylenol to help keep the pain at bay, but I was tender!

As we enjoyed our coffee, we listened to the morning cruisers’ net on the VHF. There is yet another big storm headed in our direction, bringing with it strong, shifting winds and big water chop. Go figure! So we knew we’d have to move, and opted to head back to the old stomping grounds, Tavern Cay (18 miles back south). We’ve anchored here a few times and find it to be the best protection from N / NE winds in the area. Plus it affords us another opportunity to *hopefully snorkel in the best spot in Abaco. The weather has to be good for that to happen though.

I was surprised how fast the storm caught up to us. We barely got up to check things out and already the calm water and flat anchorage were bubbling. I guess we should get a move on, like RIGHT NOW. Jake went forward to start the process of pulling anchor and I got on the helm. He had a hell of a time getting it to budge, with the strong weather moving in.

We opted to try our hand at jib-sailing again. This method has been working wonders for us, as it allows each of us to single-hand the boat and not have to fuss with the main. We made REALLY great speed despite the 25 knots of wind howling and were quite comfortable.

The journey was good. There was almost no traffic out on the water today, I guess the conditions are too strong for people. It was overcast and kind of chilly, we actually had to wear our fowl weather gear for much of the day. We passed by some familiar sights, the lighthouse, the infamous Nippers and Tahiti Beach and of course, Tavern Cay resort.

Weeeee’re Baaaacck!

April 4, 2016
There isn’t much to say about this day, other than both of us felt like crap and the weather was horrible. The big storm grew more fierce overnight and planted itself directly on top of us for the entire day. 35 knots of wind and 10 foot seas. No thank you. We are very content to sit here, read, take naps and clean the place. Maybe tomorrow will be better?

April 5, 2016
The storm passed and today was a bright, new and promising day. A day of more underwater excellence! We moved back down to Pelican Bay (where we spent our first night in Abaco after the crossing). Easy access to Sandy Cay and the most beautiful deep-water reef in all of the Abacos. I was SO EXCITED I can’t begin to tell you.

Jake forced pancakes on us and a little boat cleaning before heading out. We moved almost 7 miles down south. Fast and easy. It was still a few hours before slack tide, so we thought it’d be fun to do more exploring on the little island. We spent awhile walking around, collecting any interesting fossilized shells or sea critters that peaked our interest.

It was great, but I was so anxious to go snorkeling we gave it up after a little time. It was still a bit before slack tide, but I seriously couldn’t wait…like a kid in a candy store. We dinghied over to the mooring balls, situated right in front of the large reef. Generally, this reef is only viewable if the conditions are right, since it is exposed to the big wide open ocean, and tends to bring a hefty surge out of the east. The last time we visited, that surge was wayyy too nutty to fight, but today was a different ballgame. It was still strong, but manageable.

I didn’t care, I had my wetsuit on and was ready to go before we even tied up. As soon as my face went under the water a huge turtle swam passed and an even more huge spotted mana ray swam by, with a beautiful patterned flank. Already! Then I turned around and saw the largest span of continuous coral reef that I’ve seen in the Bahamas. And there were hundreds of fish, monstrous fish and teeny tiny fish all over the place.

Since the current was strong, we drift-dived off the dinghy, with a 40-foot tow line. We would swim out into the current, and then let it carry us back to the dinghy. This is the safest way that we felt comfortable exploring the area, until we were confident we could outswim the current.

The water was far from crystal clear, since the swell was present. But we could still enjoy. Photos don’t do it justice. As conditions shifted (ie – no more slack tide), we decided to continue our exploring around the other side of the reef, where it is completely protected from the ocean swell and much more shallow. And I thought the last place was beautiful – this was simply STUNNING! The water here was crytal and the coral was a maze of blossoms and features of all shapes and colors. So many fish. It was a masterpiece.

We swam for hours…okay, well I did. Jake hung for a bit then followed me around in the dinghy. I ended up swimming all the way back to our anchorage, following the line of coral as I swam. And back onboard the boat, I realized how incredibly freezing it was. Thank goodness I had on the wetsuit or I’d probably have hypothermia. The quick, hot shower was a welcome gift after so long in the water.

After the fun we moved Bosco back to Tavern Cay, exactly where we just left from, and planned for a third night at the anchorage. Dinner was homemade beef stroganoff from dehydrated everything and was delicious. The evening was okay, though the anchorage was rolling since our wind was playing the shifty-shift game all night.

April 6, 2016
Another “nothing” day. We did chores, namely laundry, and did all the engine/outboard maintenance. Not much to say about it other than the weather was bad, but we were pretty content in our floating abode.

Its weird living as a cruiser. You sort of find a routine in extremes…that is either constant travel/motion/activity OR the nothing days. Well, not really nothing, since there’s always stuff to do, but the days we have to wait out weather or aren’t traveling. Daily life and chores take a long time and are usually accomplished on nothing days. I thought it’d be hard to find a routine living like this, but its not so hard. Especially when there’s underwater adventures to be had. Those make it better…the best.

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2 comments on “Underwater in the Abacos

  1. Jill & Jake – So very sorry to read about your “Great Hardrive Crash of 2016!!” That would be so very hard to deal with!! However, I was glad to read that you have backups of the raw files – GOOD FOR YOU!! Also glad to read that you avoided the hurricane. Hang in there and have fun!
    All my best – Steve.

    • Thanks for your kind words Steve! I was hoping that I would be able to get my stuff in gear, but seriously its tough finding time to update this blog AND live life of travel…though right now we are stationary for a short time, so I should really get a move on – I’m still hoping that I will be able to recover the files from the old drive. Its in the “hospital” right now, hopefully will get it back next week in working order, then I don’t have to start all over again 🙂 We’ll see.

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