Our original plan was to blitz through the Bahamas fairly quickly. Bandit’s 2.1m draft means much of the Bahamas are out of bounds for us. We were also very keen to keep moving south to meet our target of being in the San Blas Islands, near Panama, in early January. But, once again, the weather dictated otherwise and we ended up spending a frustrating time sitting out bad weather. Sadly we couldn’t get to some of the places we’d hoped – such as Staniel Cay and Conception Island – due to the wind, swells and narrow channel entrances.
We left West Palm Beach in Florida on Nov 17with a brisk easterly blowing, bashing our way down the coast until it died, as forecast. Then we tacked over and motored across the dreaded Gulf Stream and all the way to the Berry Islands in the Bahamas. Just before anchoring we caught a good sized mahi-mahi - fresh fish for dinner! We spent the first few days in the beautiful Berry Islands relaxing and enjoying our new toys with one day absolutely still, hot and gorgeous. But then came the wind……and lots of it.
From here things went rapidly downhill. The plan was to sail overnight to Eluthera but at our 7pm departure time the wind was blowing 17 knots on the nose. Not the wisest conditions to set out in, especially with a difficult channel exit, so we opted for a 5am start next day. Problem was the wind only increased during the night to a solid 20knots but we had to go. We had a good moon and our GPS track to guide us out and then faced a wet and miserable bash to windward with a lumpy Atlantic swell making things very uncomfortable. As usual, Bandit took it all in her stride and got us there safely if tired and hungry. Next day we headed off for an overnight to Georgetown and, proving the vagaries of sailing, we had the best sail with 15 knots on the beam in flat seas and a magical starry night to cap it off.
Georgetown proved a safe and secure spot for the predicted winds and we spent a few days enjoying the gorgeous anchorage off Stocking Island. Our one trip over to Georgetown resulted in glum faces all round. With three people on board our tender does not plane and with choppy seas we all got absolutely drenched. Georgetown itself was pretty shabby but we did find a Laundromat, free wifi and fresh papaya and bananas to top up dwindling fruit supplies. Luckily, the ride back was not quite as wet but I did get a grilling from the crew for not agreeing to a water taxi in and back.
Finally, with good winds forecast we set off for Rum Cay, an island fellow cruisers had rated highly. Our arrival did not bode well; as we entered the reef a huge squall approached forcing us to get sails down in record time. The winds came with torrential rain – which at least cleaned Bandit and filled our water tanks…but drenched us.
We were the only boat in the anchorage and an expedition ashore proved fruitless. The one shop was closed, the handful of locals were outnumbered by dogs and there was a distinct feeling of neglect. Rum Cay was hit by Hurricane Sandy and was clearly showing its effects. Fellow cruisers had enjoyed the hospitality of locals here with mass barbecues but there was no one around to welcome us. We were obviously too early in the season for anything to be open
Amazingly, we could pick up a strong wifi signal on Bandit…so at least we managed to connect with the outside world, update weather forecasts and even skype. We decided against stopping at any other Bahamian Islands as it was obviously too early in the season and with good winds forecast we voted to get south while we could. After a solid night’s sleep we headed out for a three day/night passage to Ile a Vache in Haiti.