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Safari - Non stop to the Bahamas from St Thomas!
Author: Carmel Kavanagh Posted on: 21/4/08 Print Version


Presently in Marsh Harbour on the island of Abaco

Today is Tuesday April 15th and we are at anchor in Marsh Harbour on the island of Abaco, the most northerly of the Bahamas. We are approximately 160 Nm east of Palm Beach, Florida! We are anchored in 3.6 meters of water and sitting out a front which is blasting itís way down through the Bahamas as I write.

Had this happened on Sunday last, we would not have been able to get through the gap into the safety of Marsh Harbour. So a very big 'Thank You' to the weather forecaster, Chris Parker who kept us updated throughout the 850 mile passage.

After refuelling, we departed St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands on Monday, April 7th at approx 1300. We had 640 litres of fuel on board and needed every drop! We had hoped to sail for the first 48 hours, then motor-sail for the following 48 as the wind was predicted to die off. During the final 2 days, the wind was set to increase again and the first of 2 weather fronts was expected off the Abacos at mid-afternoon on Sunday.

As it happened, there was never quite enough wind to maintain a decent average speed of 135 miles per day so we had to motor sail for the entire 150 hours! When the first front hit us on Sunday, the wind was on the nose (from the Northwest) so we had to motor into it with her hearts in our mouth as we knew that we only had enough fuel to last until 1800 on Sunday and our speed was a mere 2.3 knots!

Throughout the week, we looked at other bolt-holes along the route but in most cases there was not enough water for Safari to approach. We draw 2.2 meters and the average depth throughout the entire chain of the Bahamas is 1.8 meters and less so we have to proceed with extreme caution.

At the moment I could choose 'The Bahamas' as my special topic in Mastermind and gain full marks! It was very frustrating. However, we did have a few possibilities in the event of an emergency; Mayaguana, Rum Cay, Nassau or Governorís Harbour on Eleuthera. Fuel would have been a bit of a problem - but it didnít come to that T.G.

The wind was ESE for most of the trip, so we motor-sailed with a preventer on the mainsail and with the jib poled out. This meant that the sails couldnít flop about and made it much safer for us.

It was very comfortable, the weather was magnificent and we settled into a pleasant routine on board after the first 24 hours. As there was practically no other traffic, standing watch at night was no problem so we both got sufficient sleep. We passed Puerto Rico and the Domincan Republic during Monday and Tuesday and then there was no sign of land until an hour before we arrived off the entrance of Marsh Harbour on Sunday.

I actually thoroughly enjoyed the clear, starry skies at night. The hours flew past preparing meals, reading, doing crosswords and listening to some wonderful music. A lot of time was also spent making alternative passage plans!

Each morning at 0715 we tuned into Chris Parker on the SSB radio and got our personal weather update. He was concerned towards the end because we were not going to reach our destination before the first weather front hit and as I already mentioned - we didnít!

On Sunday morning, the race against the front was at full throttle as we stormed along doing 7.5 knots with all sails flying and engine on in an effort to get make the entrance to Marsh Harbour before the front hit. But it wasnít to be!

At midday, with 15 miles to go, the first ferocious squall hit. We had dropped the mainsail and had reefed the jib so the boat was well balanced with the Mizen sail helping out. Then the wind direction changed abruptly and we had to drop the sails completely and proceed very slowly through an ever mounting swell on engine alone. Our speed was down to 2.5/3.00 knots. Would we run out of fuel? Things were pretty tense on board. But miraculously and as a direct result of Divine intervention, the weather calmed down as we approached the very narrow and shallow entrance to Marsh Harbour. We had also been in touch on the VHF radio with some cruising boats who were inside and they gave us a list of waypoints which would take us safely to a suitable anchorage( where we now are) just south of the main harbour.

At exactly 1800 we dropped anchor in flat calm seas. The fuel gauge stood at zero- a very close call ! ( although we reckoned that there was about another 100 litres in the tank but were not entirely sure)

We have already made some wonderful new friends here and were invited aboard 'Frog Kiss', a French/ American yacht for dinner last night. They had helped us to get in.

We cleared Customs and Immigration yesterday, paid the required $300 for a year-long cruising permit (a bit steep, donít you think!) and we are quite happy to stay on board today and listen to the howling winds blowing a hooley outside while we sit snugly on Safari and recover from the longest double-handed voyage we have undertaken to date!!

The storm really got up by Tuesday and we were unable to leave the boat for 48 hours. But the holding was great and we survived the storm!

We are now looking forward to spending a week or so here in the Abacos before heading over to mainland USA where our landfall will hopefully be Charleston in Georgia - home of 'Gone with the Wind'. The Abacos are very different from the Caribbean. There are wonderful beaches and a real 'seaside' atmosphere. As there are no hills , we are planning on hiring bikes and going on a tour of the island tomorrow. Then we will take the ferry across the Sea of Abaco and visit some of the other very interesting and lovely spots in the area.g another lovely place to be!

Love to all
Camel and Ken

Carmel & Ken Kavanagh
Safari of Howth
EMail : carmelveronicakavanagh@yahoo.ie