Saturday, December 19, 2009

Marsh Harbor Part I, Abacos, Bahamas

Wednesday, December 16 - Saturday, December 19, 2009
We've finally made it to Marsh Harbor, the 3rd largest city in the Bahamas (after Nassau & Freeport). We've been excited about coming here, since it's the first "big city" we've been to since leaving Florida. As much as we've loved Green Turtle and Great Guana Cays, Marsh Harbor has big grocery stores plus more restaurants, shopping, and hang-out spots. We wouldn't want to stay here for too long, but it's a nice change of pace.

Marsh Harbor is less than 7nm from Guana Cay. Our cruising guide warns not to swim in the harbor due to the "poor water quality", so making water in the harbor doesn't sound like the best idea, either. We figure we can make 2 hours worth of water on the way from Guana to Marsh Harbor, but we really have to tone down the RPMs to make 3.5 knots (yes, we're motoring again...winds are - big surprise - light and on the nose). It's a slow and easy trip to Marsh, and we settle in to a good anchoring spot by noon. There are a few boats in the harbor, but it's definitely quieter than our guide books have warned for this time of year. We spot a few familiar boats...we've see or talked to Curieuse, Joyous, Mailine, and Wind Swept at different times over the past 3 weeks, and Val and Ed of Wind Swept soon dinghy over to say hi on their way to snorkel the nearby reef. That's still one of the best parts of this lifestyle; you never know who you'll run into at your next port, but you can be pretty sure there'll be at least one familiar face! We get the scoop on the nearest dinghy dock, directions into town, and some local cruiser spots, and are soon on our way in for a tour of the town. What looked like a small dinghy-landing beach from the boat turns out to be a floating dinghy dock adjacent to the ferry dock...and a good part of it isn't floating anymore! We manage to keep our feet mostly dry getting the boat tied up, and wander off for a tour of Marsh Harbor. It's literally a one-stoplight town, which is still more than can be said for it's neighboring islands. For the first time in 3 weeks, we see more cars than golf carts. Come to think of it, we don't see ANY golf carts. Now we know we're in the big city! Our walk takes us away from the waterfront, past banks (open more than two half-days a week!), veterinarians, hardware and marine stores, groceries, liquor name it, it's here. Another turn takes us to "Restaurant Row" at the eastern end of the harbor where the marinas, open-air bars, restaurants, and more touristy shops reside. There are plenty of places to visit, and most of the waterfront spots have their own dinghy docks. They really make it easy for cruisers, who provide a steady supply of tourism dollars each year.

Another good thing about being in Marsh Harbor is that we can finally pick up the daily cruiser's net on the VHF. Marsh Harbor has a net (i.e. radio program) at 8:15am each morning on VHF channel 68; it's similar to the net we used to enjoy in Marathon, FL, and covers the weather, arriving and departing boats, community events, announcements or specials from local businesses, etc. We find out about the Thursday night cruiser's happy hour at the Jib Room (bring an appetizer and meet your fellow boaters!), a wine tasting on Friday at Tupp's, Italian night at the Abaco Inn, Saturday steak night at the Jib Room, and the Christmas potluck that will be held at the Jib Room. (In case you haven't noticed, the Jib Room at the Marsh Harbor Marina seems to be "THE" spot for cruisers. There's even a flag from our old homestead, Watergate Yachting Center.) The potluck is a welcome announcement for us, since the weather forecast is not looking good for a return trip to Green Turtle in time for Christmas Day. The powers that be are forecasting gale-force winds Friday through early Sunday, and sadly the various weather sources actually agree on this forecast for once. We've already put out a second anchor in a "V" to better hold us in place and prevent dragging. Even if we do drag, there are a lot fewer boats to run into than when we first arrived. Many boats in the harbor have made reservations at local marinas so they can ride out the storm tied to a dock, and they start pulling up anchors as the winds pick up on Thursday morning. By Thursday afternoon, there's not another boat within 200' of us. Not to be deterred by a little wind, we dinghy into town again on Thursday to pick up a few groceries, and even make it to the cruiser's happy hour at the Jib Room that evening. (If we're going to be stuck on the boat for the next 2-3 days, we need to get out and socialize while we still can!)

Friday morning we're both bleary-eyed, and not from last night's happy hour. The winds have been howling all night, and Rene's gotten up to check the anchors twice. We're happy to report that we're still in the same position, but the latest weather report tells us we'll need to stay on our toes: Barometer Bob, Chris Parker, Weather Underground, and Windfinder are all still forecasting 30-40kt winds this afternoon through Saturday night or early Sunday morning, with the possibility of 40-50kt gusts in passing sqalls. Oh, joy... By noon we start turning as the winds clock around from the north to the east and beyond. Clocking is a strange thing on a boat. It's like a slow-motion version of the teacup ride at the carnival, only in much larger, more expensive teacups that you hope don't turn into bumper cars. You look out the window to see your neighbor boat behind you, spend a couple of minutes doing something else, and the next thing you know, you look up to see that same boat along side or even in front of you. If you've set your anchors well (ditto for your neighbors), your view doesn't include another boat suddenly in your face! It can be dizzying if the winds change fast enough, which is exactly what we've been told to expect today.

Our first squall comes thundering in at sunset. Sheets of rain hit the windows, and we get quite a light show for the next hour. The wind has us swinging back and forth again, causing our neighbors' mast lights to fly past the windows. Needing some Christmas cheer, we've hung our colored Christmas lights around the windows and have put a few decorations up. Gone are the days of 8' Christmas trees - our current tree is only 6" high. Still, it's amazing how a few lights can put you in the holiday spirit. With the Saturday morning forecast we've all but accepted the fact that we'll be "stuck" in Marsh Harbor for Christmas. (We know - queue the mini violins!) The winds are going to be too strong all the way through Christmas for us to cross the Whale Cay Passage back to Green Turtle. Tuesday is supposed to lighten up for a few hours, but it won't be enough time to allow the seas to calm down before the winds pick up again. Stacy's college friend and her family are also supposed to be cruising from Ft. Lauderdale to the Abacos for Christmas, but at this point we're not sure if the waves in the Gulf Stream will ease up enough to get them here. Who knows...maybe things will calm down in time for us to meet up for New Year's!

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