Following the passage of a weekend cold front, improving weather on Monday, March 30th sets the stage for the next leg of our journey…a visit to the Jumentos Cays. The plan is to spend several days cruising the Jumentos Cays before reaching George Town in the Southern Exumas.
After three days at anchor in Clarence Town harbor, Cutter Loose is underway at noon on Monday for a 30-mile sail along the eastern coast of Long Island to South Point. The skies remain overcast, the wind remains gusty and the seas remain lumpy in the aftermath of the cold front, which has now moved on to our south. The front may have passed, but its aftereffects are still very much in evidence today here in the waters off of Long Island. With unrelenting 20-knot winds and light, intermittent rain, a light rain jacket is needed to keep us warm and dry.
Strong northeasterly winds over the weekend have pushed water in the Crooked Island Passage onto the eastern shore of Long Island. Although the wind is abating somewhat today, the seas are still choppy and confused. At the southern tip of Long Island, northeasterly winds clash with a southwesterly current. Wind against current…always a deterrent.
At 5 PM, the anchorage at South Point is a welcome sight. Also known as Gordon’s Anchorage, our home for the night is a delightful spot in the lee of a sandy beach. An invisible underwater wrap-around reef curls from the southern tip of the island to the northwest in a graceful arc, providing good protection from northeasterly, easterly and southeasterly winds.
At the time of our arrival, the anchorage is empty and calm. The icing on the cake is a soft sand bottom…excellent material for securely setting the anchor. Tonight, there is no moon or stars. Nor is there any concern whatsoever about wind, wave or unsettled conditions in our little peaceful corner of the world.
Tuesday, March 31st brings improved weather to the neighborhood. Under sunny skies, the anchor is up at 7:30 AM at South Point. Moderate, northeasterly winds at 15 to 20 knots send Cutter Loose on a broad reach to the Jumentos Cays…a 60-mile string of tiny islands and cays that form the boundary between the shallow waters of the Great Bahama Bank to the west and the deeper water of the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Only a few islands in the Jumentos are inhabited. This is a pristine area with few visitors other than fishermen and the occasional cruising yacht.
Our point of entry to the Jumentos Cays is Man of War Channel…a cut in the island chain between Man of War Cay to the north and Jamaica Cay to the south. Today’s 60-mile journey from South Point, Long Island is delightful, downwind sailing. Five miles to the east of the cut, several extremely low-lying islands come into view. Land ho!
Once through the cut, Cutter Loose enters the shallow waters of the Great Bahama Bank. Turning northeast into the wind, it is another ten miles beyond Man of War Cay to our destination at Flamingo Cay. The friendly wind that has given us such a pleasurable sail from South Point today has shed its sheep’s clothing. This wolf of a wind is now kicking up a nasty chop on the Bank with steep 2 to 3 foot waves spaced only a few seconds apart. Soon, Cutter Loose is taking waves on the foredeck as she pounds her way towards our destination.
After two hours of rodeo action, the anchorage at Flamingo Cay is within sight. It is a calm and protected lee anchorage with no other boats in sight, other than a fishing boat in the cove to the north. Anchorages in the Jumentos Cays have a reputation for being windy and impacted by surge, due to the numerous cuts between all of the tiny islands in the chain. Fortunately, there is a complete absence of swell in our anchorage tonight.
The weather on Wednesday, April 1st is quite settled, as forecasted. The overall exposure and isolation in the Jumentos Cays compels the prudent sailor to think in defensive terms. We are not enthusiastic about a replay of yesterday’s bouncy slog to windward. Taking advantage of the calm weather and in light of the fact that the next few days are expected to bring winds in the 20 to 25 knot range, the anchor is up at Flamingo Cay for the short 15-mile run northeast to Water Cay. Passing to starboard along the way are a series of tiny cays, including Torzon, Lanzadera, Melita as well as several unnamed large rocks that lie between the larger cays.
At 2 PM, Cutter Loose is anchored in sand in the lee of Water Cay. This is an awe-inspiring place to be…evoking a feeling of remoteness and being one with nature similar to that imparted by the Tobago Cays except without the crowd.
An outstanding view of the beach and nearby rock formations frames the view to the east, while impressive sunsets provide early evening entertainment to the west. Waves pounding the Atlantic side of this low-lying Cay produce explosive plumes of water reaching skyward in dramatic bursts.
A Floridian cruising couple from the catamaran anchored a half mile to the north stops by at Cutter Loose to say hello and to show us their freshly speared hogfish, caught on the reef just minutes earlier. As the saying goes, no man with a big fish walks home through the alley.
Given the windy weather forecast for the next few days, life settles into “slow down mode” aboard Cutter Loose. We will remain at anchor here until the wind subsides, presumably on Saturday. Until then, our days are filled with visits to the beach, boat chores, reading, recorded music, board games, gazing at the scenery, listening to shorebirds and watching attentively for the “green flash” at sunset.
Since Easter weekend is rapidly approaching, Pat fine tunes her baking skills, creating a sextet of delicious hot cross buns.
After the dinner dishes are washed and dried, the evening entertainment frequently consists of a movie. It never ceases to amaze how these days at anchor disappear so rapidly.
Another interesting and important task while at anchor in the Jumentos involves researching the charts and cruising guides in anticipation of the next leg of our journey to and through the Exuma chain. Although George Town in the Exumas is a scant 40 miles from Water Cay as the crow flies, the route to our next destination is through shallow water and therefore requires thoughtful planning.
Since the waters of the Bank are shallow, the path from the Jumentos follows a highly prescribed route that requires us to play the tides in order to pass through particularly shallow areas. The most direct route between the Jumentos and George Town is via Hog Cay Cut that separates Little Exuma Island from Hog Cay. This is a narrow cut with a hard bottom and just a little over 5 feet of depth at high tide. Given her draft of 5 feet, there would be a scant 3 or 4 inches of water under the keel of Cutter Loose if we timed our passage through this “short cut” at precisely high tide. Hog Cay Cut imposes a considerable amount of risk in exchange for the paltry reward of saving a few hours’ time.
The lower risk alternative is to follow Comer Channel, located about 20 miles to the north of Water Cay and 10 miles west of the northern neck of Long Island. Comer is not a dredged channel, nor is it marked in any way with aids to navigation. Rather, it is a marginally deeper east/west path across an 11-mile section of the Bank that is used primarily by fishermen traveling between Long Island and the Jumentos Cays. Depths in the Channel are reportedly 6 feet at mid tide.
The weather forecast for Saturday calls for moderation in wind and sea…an excellent one-day window to transit the Comer Channel before the wind increases again on Easter Sunday. Missing this one day weather window could easily translate to spending another week or more here in the Jumentos. Such is the nature of the Jumentos Cays. It is an isolated and beautiful place. One can be comfortable here in prevailing easterlies. But it is unforgiving during the passage of a cold front. Bailout options are few and far between. Being unable to predict the weather for more than a few days, cruisers must be prepared for an extended stay when visiting this area.
On Saturday, April 4th, the anchor is up at Water Cay at 4 AM. The full moon is a welcome companion this morning. Not only does it illuminate the water, but it also creates an abnormally high tide, providing an extra margin of comfort for today’s assignment.
Our early morning departure is timed to position Cutter Loose at Comer West around 8 AM at mid tide rising. From here, we will ride the rising tide, exiting the Channel at Comer East around high tide. Fortunately, today’s float plan comes together quite nicely. Turning east into the Channel, the wind subsides to 10 knots, calming the water and increasing our speed over ground. By 10:45 AM, it is high tide and our transit of Comer Channel is complete. Not once during today’s transit of the Channel did we experience water depths of less than 8 feet.
From Comer East, it is another 30 miles to George Town. Our course takes us north around White Cay Bank then west along the north coast of Hog Cay to North Channel Rocks, the entrance to Elizabeth Harbor. At 3 PM, the anchor is down in the lee of Stocking Island, not far from Volleyball Beach…the focal point of cruiser activity in George Town.
With the completion of today’s 69-mile journey, we bid farewell to the out islands of the southern Bahamas and enter the Exuma chain in the central Bahamas. In the process, we are transported to another world. There are hundreds of boats at anchor here in George Town. A steady stream of dinghies and water taxis ply the waters of Elizabeth Harbor between town and Chat ‘n Chill, a popular eating and drinking establishment on Volleyball Beach. Goodbye pristine isolation…hello civilization.
There is yet another milestone that has been reached during today’s journey. One hundred twenty two days ago, our winter cruise began at 12 degrees north latitude on the south coast of Grenada. Today, Cutter Loose crossed an imaginary line at 23 degrees, 27 minutes north latitude known as the Tropic of Cancer. Each year on June 21st, the sun is directly overhead at this latitude. For the first time in over three years, Cutter Loose is no longer sailing in tropical waters.
Tomorrow we will begin our exploration of this vibrant community. This afternoon, however, it is time to contemplate our progress and savor today’s dramatic transition.