4th May 2010
We arrived at North Bimini Island late on the first day of our voyage and entered the channel that led into the anchorage and jetties owned by sports fishing lodges and bars. These were run by locals such as Captain Pat, who took a shine to us. He’s a pretty old fella but he knew everyone and just about everything.
Just before we entered we pulled in the fishing line we had set as we left the USA and after much speculation as to what was so heavy we reeled in our first fish, a wahoo. It was so rooted it could hardly swim, we probably skull dragged it from Fort Lauderdale. After letting it go as we had no room in any of our fridges, Mollie had killed the new Waico by not doing up the hatch properly which led to it being drowned after the first wave, we hunted down a place to park up. We set the anchor just out of the channel and all dived in to see how it had set and to our surprise it had set perfectly. The water was close to perfect, crystal clear and warm as. Muz and I swam over to the other side of the channel and we both caught each other pinching ourselves to make sure this was really happening, we both thought about it at the same time, pretty amazing we reckon. The current was running in and at a pretty brisk rate but we were holding well. We had a little ceremony up forward as we raised our Q flag for the first time and sat back for some refreshing ales. It didn’t take long and we had our first visitor, Canadian Indian bloke named Ted who had been there for quite some time. He had all the news of the island and gave us the run down over a few beers and then we hit the sack. Next morning I completed our first lot of formalities with clearing in, I reckon Bimini is a good place to clear in as it is all in one office and is all over in ten minutes. I went back to the boat, raised the Bahamian courtesy flag and got the crew into action. We hired a golf buggy off Captain Pat and went on our way to explore the island. It is a pretty relaxed place with plenty of shops and stuff all named after the owner or perhaps there mums. We found a bar to our liking and had our first taste of conch fritters and tried some more ribs, the conch was alright but the ribs were just like in the USA, pretty strange way to ruin meat.
We returned to the boat and found it to be facing the opposite direction and Ted came over and suggested setting another anchor, so I jumped over and right below us was a huge piece of chain, so we tied the stern off to it and all our anchoring concerns were over, Moe came back to the boat all excited about the treasure chest she had found so Muz and I dived back in only to find an old battery someone had chucked over board, it did look a bit like a castle but not really a treasure chest. We hit South Bimini that night for karaoke which got pretty messy especially for Captain Rod, I was lucky the crew were on duty and got me home.
Next day we were yacking with Captain Pat and he suggested that we should head on our way as the weather was going to be perfect for crossing the Grand Bahama Bank that night, full moon and a light to moderate northerly. On finding out about the full extent of my running amuck it was deemed a great idea, I can still vaguely remember meeting the Queen of Bimini and dancing but vaguely is the appropriate word. We said our goodbyes to Captain Pat and our first new mate of the voyage, Ted, and off we went, headed for some place called Chub Key which using Davids lessons we estimated to be about 1 degree 20 minutes away. Not far.
It was unreal, calm water with 10 to 12 kns all arvo and night pushing us along at 6 kns. The water is crystal clear, so clear that you can see tiny rocks amongst the sand in four metres of water. But there were also lots more batteries, a washing machine and a fridge. We found the beacon in the middle of the banks and kept going, we came across the passage that gets you off the banks and then we came across the fishing boats. They were everywhere fishing for mahi mahi and wahoo. We rolled up to Chub Key late afternoon and got a pen in the marina. This is not a very friendly place, all to busy being knobs with big toys, we ended up in the locals bar where we were introduced to domino’s and rum. Charged the batteries all night and got out of there as quick as possible the next morning headed for Eleuthera Island and hopefully some surf.
We motored most of it as it was like glass but it was also muggy and hot. At one stage we pulled up and jumped into the Atlantic ocean in 2 km’s of the most beautiful crystal clear dark blue water. Finally we got to our destination, Current Cut, which is a passage between the town of Current and Current island. We anchored up here, the anchor set perfectly again, then went ashore only to be straight back to the boat for some insect repellant. The noseeums got us big time. Big lesson as they are as itchy as a sand fly and get you when you least expect it.
We met a bloke on the shore who was going to get a car to take us to the pub, didn’t happen so we walked a mile or so to a house that had been cleaned out and turned into a big room with tables and chairs that served alcohol, the pub. It was a pretty funny session, the publican and her husband, Americans who had been there for years, had no idea where Australia was and even after jumping around like skippy still had no idea, normally always works. Our man with the car rolled up, on his bike, the first couple of beers were cold then they were served up hot so we switched to the local rum, two bucks a bottle the size of a hip flask. It tastes great, bit like Malibu.The owners were getting tired so the pub shut and off we went with old mate to get some shells, then some conch fritters and beers at a house where the lady made up the food, her husband cooked the BBQ and the kids served it up. Slick operation and the conch was filthy.
We made it back to the boat, Muz bought a shell then old mate gave Mollie and I one, I think he was pretty out there, but we were all thinking if this is the type of fun you can have on your first night, look out
We headed for Hatchet Bay which was pretty close to a good surf spot and the chart showed a inland pond that had been cut through to the sea and looked like a safe spot to leave the boat while we explored a bit. We headed east and passed the Glass Window which is a bridge across a valley and it is possible to glimpse the Atlantic. Hatchet Bay is a bargain place to moor up, no charge, dinghy dock, Francis, Gina and family makes the best fish burgers, fresh fish, fresh salad fresh everything, at their restaurant called The Front Porch, which is all of one minute from the dock. A hire car is less than $50 a day although the air con didn’t work but if you left the sliding doors open it was fine, the local pub called Da Spot is walking distance and was frequented by the friendliest people. Only bummer was no surf but at least we tried. We made heaps of friends and had a ball. Mollie had the boys sniffing around whenever we hit Da Spot. It is so laid back. We hung around for four days and pretty much explored the island then said our goodbyes and headed for somewhere new.
We rounded the southern tip of Eleuthera and headed for Cat Island then the plan was to island hop to Rum Cay but we didn’t make it as the sea and wind were against us big time so we bared away 60 degrees which put us on a reach and we headed for the north western tip of Long Island, one of the best decisions Captain Rod, now known as Captain Erratic by the two Gilligans, G1 and G2, had made to date.
Cracked 10 kns for the first time in flat water the colour you see in the magazines, beautiful. We found the guide and quickly sussed it out. Stella Maris Marina seemed like the go so we called them up on the VHF and were told to make our way down to the entrance markers and come on in. The entry is long, a couple of nm and shallow, 1.2 metres, and is marked with pieces of white 25mm PVC pipe. With the calibrated depth sounder frequently reading 0.00 we slowly motored in only coming to a halt right at the end. Although it was so shallow you could still just pick the subtle color change between the channel and the bank, must have been all of a foot difference.
We met Chivago, the dock master, we called him Doc, at the fuel berth where we were allowed to moor up. This guy is a ripper, he took us for a tour of the resort, the marina which is straight out of Gilligans Island, and got us a hire car.
We took the car, tooting the horn at everyone and getting smiles from all the kids headed down North to the top of the island, saw a monument to Christopher Columbus, then proceeded to check out every thing of interest back up south. I have forgotten the reason for saying it arse about but it sort of made sense when it was explained to us. Something to do with a nautical theme. A customs official came to the boat, just wanted to know how long we were staying and was on his way. We travelled the island from top to bottom, met a bloke name Michael who invited us to race in the sailing regatta at Salt Pond on Sunday on his mates Bahaman Sloop. Also met a pommy publican, Mike, owner of the Long Island Breeze Resort who said we should definitely come up for it as the Bahamian Champion was there and there was some pretty hot competition, by now Muz and I were fully going racing and in the end we had a ball. Muz crewed on the champs boat, Beerly Legal, for 2 seconds and a third and I sailed on Surprise. We got 2 thirds and a second. If Captain Jules hadn’t run us aground while we were out in front in the last race we could have beat the buggers. After I jumped in and started pushing us off the bank, the rest followed and once we got going again with the crew pretty down trodden after our lightning start, which consists of an anchor pull, sail raise and set on the gun, which is the wave of a hat, they were all waiting to cop it from Captain Jules who for some reason they feared with their life, but I got in first and informed him that where I come from, running aground when your are way out in front is definitely a carton, the crew loved it and Jules even had to smile.
They introduced us to vodka and coconut water’s, lethal but go down a treat. The crew also introduced us to there wives and their girlfriends as if we were royalty but they mentioned the horror word, Karaoke, and it was on after the yacht club shut. We left while the going was good, Mollie was the skipper back down North that night. They were most disappointed as I had been singing “Do Rite In” along with the band out on the boat, you could hear them as you sailed close to shore, and they were pretty impressed that we new that song, a Bahaman all time great. Oh no I get do rite in. Which was becoming a bit of a habit but when in the Bahamas do as the Bahamans do.
We were invited to tea at Doc’s house that night anyway so as Mum always used to say, “you can’t do everything.”
We had a great feed of a local chicken dish and Doc gave me a raspberry cheesecake for my birthday which was fast approaching.
Doc, Francis and Captain Pat would cover two or three generations and if they are to go by then the Bahaman people are a pretty happy go lucky bunch that are very trustworthy and lovely, which is how old Christopher Columbus saw them as well.
We had a big night to finish our visit at the Stella Maris Resort’s rum punch night, this is another place you need to visit when on Long Island, great people and great rum punch but get in quick for the food, it was so nice it got hoovered up in no time.
Got underway next day, my birthday and headed up south through Gommer Channel for Mathew Town on Great Inagua Island. Caught our first Mahi Mahi and let it go, it was about 4 foot long and neither Murray or I were in the mood to kill something so splendid.
On reaching Mathew Town we tied up to the wharf, introduced ourselves to the harbour mistress, Donna, who gladly runs you round the place in her big black truck, but this is not for free and in fact is pretty expensive. Cost us 75 bucks, a filthy bottle of Howard Park Cabernet and lunches. Be warned.
We found a power point that worked on a post near the fuel shed so we had the air conditioner going for the first time as it was hot and steamy. Over the couple of days we loaded up fuel, food and ice and went to clear out, once again an easy task. Nice little town but like most of the Bahamas has had too many run ins with hurricanes. Everything is a bit worn out but that is also the beauty of the place, the other is the people, if you wave to everyone and say gidday to everyone they will make a point of shaking your hand or high fiving with you whether they are kids, adults or oldies, I can’t wait to go back to the Bahama’s but next time will be for a full season.
We departed Gregory Town and headed for Cuba where we would pick up the southern shipping lane and head through Windward Passage and south to Categena in Colombia. We had a great south easterly breeze of 14kns which had us sitting on 7kns, the current was quite strong but late in the night it changed in our favour, the main problem was the ships, they were coming at us from everywhere, one passed so close we could see people looking down at us from way up above. We came across our first pod of dolphins and they hung with us for half an hour riding the bow wave, with full moon, smooth seas and no swell it was pretty cool. The wind dropped to nothing so on with the Yanmah’s and away we went.
Next day while we were cruising along near the coast of Hispanola I noticed two coke bottles in the water so we turned around to investigate, sure enough they were tied to string so we started pulling one up. Bloody long way down and weighed a ton but we got it to the top and found it to be a fish trap made of wood and fronds. We dropped it back down near the other one, went for a swim and were off again. I really wanted to put a present in the trap but in the end it went back in with the handful of little fish already trapped.
After a long 24 hrs with no wind we were pretty wrapped when it started to come in and as we finally got out of the Lee of Hispanola we had 25kns from the east, a three metre swell also from the east, both reefs in and look out Categena here we come. We sat on 8 to 10kns for the next couple of days and nights, bearing 188 to 190 all the way. This passage was a major step up as we hadn’t travelled this far without pulling up for ice or power and for the first time it kind of sunk in what it is like to be pretty self dependent. G2, Mollie, chucked up a couple of times and wanted to go home, had a father daughter discussion and gave her a hug but told her she would have to pay for the airfare from Colombia if she took the easy way out. It worked, although she just lied around not doing a great deal. Muz and I were taking it all in our stride, steak burgers on the barbie, beers and dark and stormy’s to wash them down. I got the water maker going, it had never really worked properly so out with the book and hey presto, a solenoid valve was clogged up, I had seen the old owner mucking around with pipes and valves the day we left. The bypass valve for back flushing didn’t work automatically, he could have told us. By now we had given him a name, limp wristed Len as anything he had done himself either leaked, came undone or had not been put back properly. We sailed on in the same conditions for another day with the little boat symbol on the GPS slowly heading south at 190 degrees with Cartegena now on the 300nm range. Go To Cursor was working a treat. I read a book without stopping, never done that before, more BBQ’s, more beer and even had a shower. Muz was hanging in, Mollie was contemplating an airfare still crook but not spewing any more.
With about 30 miles to go the wind stopped to nothing, it was weird as we just went from sailing, to slowing down, to a dead halt in minutes. Dropped the sails, and ventured forward for the first time in a couple of days, dead flying fish everywhere. We got the motors happening for the last stretch. About 20 miles out we smelt our first land for four days and it smelt like chooks.
There was a huge thunderstorm coming straight at us so we gave the boat a big wash down with hull wash and let the rain finish it off. Boomerang was sparkling again and as we got closer to Cartagena I asked G2 how her Spanish was going as she had to talk to Port Control in a few hours. She was off to her cabin in a flash trying to find the tutorial I had bought for her to learn. Spanish in two hours, I don’t think so, but Muz and I went for as much lattitude the situation would allow. We both had read the guide that let you know that all the Port authority personnel speak fluent English.
We located the markers that showed the passage into Cartegena and tried to get G2 to call up Port control but it was futile so I gave it a shot. The officer came back in a flash in perfect English and requested that we spell the boats name in boat alphabet, this ruined Muz’s and my moment as we had not expected it and after our first complete stuff up I asked him if we could just have a tick to write it out, bravo, Oscar, Oscar, mike, echo, roger, alpha, no idea so we used nelly, gamma. Failed so off to the dictionary and we soon had it right.
Mollie was cracking up, then he wanted the captains full name and the port Boomerang was registered in the same. We were lucky it was not an emergency as we would probably have been on the bottom but we got there and he gave us permission to enter the port and instructions to head to Club Nautico to clear in. As we entered we could see a huge Colombian flag flying off the stern of an equally huge old sailing ship. There were two other ships and a huge crowd seeing them off. Geez if we had have been an hour earlier we could have been right there but even from a mile away it was a pretty speccy sight. They were a part of the the tall ships mob.
Our next job was to find Club Nautico, no mean feat if you have no idea where it could be, but looking around and taking in the scenery was an eye opener with pretty big buildings in all states of repair and construction all over the place. I actually thought that they may have been bombed, it just looked sort of old but also new. We rounded a headland with restaurants on the shore, people were waving at us, we all looked around to see if we had stuffed up and entered some forbidden area or a minefield but it seems they were just happy to see us. Quite a good welcoming committee if I do say so, probably heard about our antics in the Bahamas. Once round the bend masts appeared and we had found Club Nautico so we waved back and headed for our next anchorage.
We found a spot amongst the other boats, dropped anchor and let out about forty metres of chain in 5 metres of water, I am now a firm believer that you can never have to much chain, but we swung a bit close to another cat so we hauled in ten metres and found the bottom to be black stinking mud. We weren’t going anywhere.
After a few beers it was decided that Captain Erratic should go ashore and suss the place out, so I did, and met our Cartegena connections, Alberto, diver and hull scraper, Antonio, wise old bloke who always nodded his hello’s and Juan a diver who found the mooring lines that must just lie on the bottom, he had definitely lucked out in the employment stakes. They introduced me to David, the agent, who was a big bloke in a pink Lacoste shirt. He gladly took our passports, ships papers and said he would be back, just wait a bit.
Alberto leant me 10000 pesos and I went and bought a dozen beers and sat there and drank them with them while I waited. They could speak a bit of English which was good because I didn’t even know how to say hello in Spanish. David came back and said he had missed the airport and as it was Sunday we would have to wait till tomorrow to get the paperwork done. I asked about everyone coming ashore and he said of course don’t worry this is Colombia. Excellent, so I went back and grabbed the crew and we hit a takeaway joint up the street, my cards worked at the ATM, always good, paid back my debt and went back to the boat and crashed. There was a good breeze so it was a joy being safe and sound, the boys insisted that we raise our dinghy as even though the marine police kept a pretty good watch dinghys were fair game.
Next day met with John the harbour master and he organized us a pen for five days so we shifted and pulled up next to another cat, quite close to the dinghy wharf and in view of the office and undercover area. I had to rewire the power circuit on our jetty and out of pure luck in the bag of leads that came with the boat there was one strange looking one that I had never come across that just happened to be the the one we needed, Len was making good, about time.
Categena is an excellent city, when we were there it was very safe, really old and well maintained, colouful, very busy, pretty cheap, had great food but there are two things that let the place down. First is the traffic, I like to try driving everywhere but not here, it is out of control and the second thing is they only speak Spanish and very few people know English. I have never just ordered food by taking a guess but we did this on more than one occasion. Our favourite in the end was Carne tipi-cal, which is a whole 3 courses starting with soup made from a piece of meat, piece of potato and a piece of corn in some stock, then the main is the flattest piece of steak you ever did see with ensalader, which you cover with tobasco sauce and desert was a dollop of ice cream with a flavor poured on top. Taxis are cheap, same with DVD’s and electrical appliances although finding a vacuum cleaner took a couple of days, pretty hard trying to explain that in sign language, ended up something between an elephant and a broom did the job. We had a bloke named Woby cut and polish the whole boat for US$250, all the stainless for $50 and his mate painted any aluminum that required it for $160 and old mates Alberto and Antonio kept an eye on them for us.
John the harbour master is a wealth of knowledge and can help you out with just about anything, should have asked him about the vacuum, he is doing a great job in very trying circumstances. We had a ball in Cartegena but it does wear you down when there is no wind, it is bloody hot and muggy so we gave David our passports and papers and he did his bit and we were free to go when we were ready. His services couldn’t be faulted, although it felt strange handing over your passport to a stranger and not getting it back for a couple of days. We left late in the afternoon and headed out for the San Blas Islands.
The trip there is an overnighter and was uneventful. We spent three days checking it out, not long but long enough to know we will be going back there. Couldn’t believe the Kuna people, short, colorful and a happy mob, we charged the young women on one islands mobiles for them, made us wonder who they were going to ring as our phones rarely worked. We had a great time at the bar on Pourvier with a collection of all nationalities and a big feast on Muz’s roast pork and veges to finish the night off.
Set sail at midnight headed for Colon and our first chance to catch up with Vin and the Dolly Grace crew as we had word they were still ginning around in Shelter Bay Marina. Got there at 1400 next day and found Vin working his arse off in the engine room. Didn’t look like he was on holidays but it was great to see him.
They had used Tito to do their paperwork so we did the same and it all worked out perfectly, you just need to let them do it as it comes, Tito is a good operator and may roll up with his son Marco with tyres, ropes or your papers at any time but if he says he is going to do it he will do it. Mollie had to stay in the Marina as it was pretty dodgy in Colon itself especially around the port, we had the can of mace but on one occasion there was gunshots, people started running and then soldiers came from everywhere while we were in the old range rover with the window that wouldn’t stay up, pretty scarey stuff.
Some people do the paperwork themselves, good on them but I reckon it would rate with driving in Cartegena. If there is someone willing to do it for you the chance of being robbed is greatly diminished. It took four days from when we got there to be stocked up, all papers complete and relaxing by the pool waiting for our turn at the canal. On one of the shopping runs Mollie came with us as Marco and his mate drove to and from the supermarket. Food, alcohol, antibiotics and medicine, in fact everything is cheap but so is life so watch out.