Into South Carolina Nov 4 – 7

Another year, another few more feet sunk in

Another year, another few more feet sunk in

Mother Nature has blessed us with pleasant cruising weather, more so than average and we have moved right along at a low fuel consuming pace. Wed Nov 4 we crossed into South Carolina on a day with rain and T-storms forecasted but never materialized along the coastline.
Now about that bridge. Warning, I am about to rant. Well maybe not that bad but unless you are a boater/cruiser, you may think I am making a lake out of a puddle! On Tuesday we called Osprey Marina in Myrtle Beach to book space for Wed and were told that the Socastee Swing Bridge 2 miles north of the marina had broken overnight and was not opening. Oh, we didn’t hear any Coast Guard announcement about that, ummm maybe Charleston sector was doing that, but for all of us southbound and still in NC we heard zilch. So I posted a comment on the Active Captain FB Group and that prompted a couple informative replies and a hazard mark got placed before the bridge noting the current status.

Socastee Bridge -our note in ActiveCaptain

Socastee Bridge -our note in ActiveCaptain

Wed would be a long (9hrs, 68 nm) day to Osprey and we needed to know if the bridge would open or not. We booked a spot at a marina 20 miles north just in case but we really wanted to get to Osprey and fill up at $2/gal for diesel.

Thanks to Ann on Traveling Soul you can see us departing Carolina Beach

Thanks to Ann on Traveling Soul you can see us departing Carolina Beach

We left Carolina Beach with a favorable current down the Cape Fear River and passed through the recently dredged but re-shoaling Lockwoods Folly and Shallotte inlets at mid-tide. Still, no announcements heard on CH 16, switch to 22 from the CG. We knew the bridge which is normally on request, was opening on the top of the hour between 7am and 7pm with crew assistance. Once we weren’t seeing any contradictory info, we cancelled Barefoot Marina and booked at Osprey, planning to catch the 5pm opening.

buoy work yay!

Buoy work yay!  Maybe they will put some where they are sorely needed.

Trust but verify is my motto and I remembered that the bridge info for this particular one included a phone number to call if boaters had complaints about the bridge. So I called and after two more calls, I reached the right person at the company who manages the opening bridges. He confirmed the opening schedule, was concerned that announcements weren’t being heard north into NC and explained that a part had to be machined (we figured that, I mean these bridges are old and you just don’t buy a replacement part at Ye Olde Parts Store) and the repair would take at least a few more days.
We vacillated on speeding up a bit to make the 4pm and in the end, with 40 mins to go and a flat calm stretch ahead, we burnt off some carbon and got to the bridge with 5 mins to spare, joining 4 others waiting.

Socastee Swing- opens at 4pm for the hopeful 5

Socastee Swing- opens at 4pm for the hopeful 5

The bridge assist crew stands by

The bridge assist crew stands by

Fueling up we learned that a pin broke and a crew was using a come-along to help the bridge open and then re-align with the road when closed. A good pin was removed and used as a model to have a new one made. Finally at 5pm at the marina, we heard Charleston make an announcement but it was just included with weather, etc stuff. Ok, done. Sorry, but seems the Coasties haven’t smartened up much in two years.
The other reason to get to Osprey Wed night, besides cheap fuel (other prices in SC were $2.40+) was to have a short day Thursday to Georgetown where we wanted to spend the day.
Although the rain had passed, the winds were low and- uh oh that means fog. Not dense here but we heard from you-know-who up at Carolina Beach that the fog was very dense there.

The always scenic Waccamaw River

The always scenic Waccamaw River

The Waccamaw is one of my favorite places, especially in spring when the osprey are nesting. Today was overcast, 71 degrees, low wind and we moved along at 9kts at only 1,800 rpm with decent current assist.

"Honey, I'm Good"! Enjoying the ride down the Waccamaw

“Honey, I’m Good”! Enjoying the ride down the Waccamaw with music from the flybridge

We like Georgetown. We especially like Independent Seafood and I was happy we could stop and fill our freezer with shrimp, crab cakes and salmon. The Red Store Warehouse sits in front of Independent Seafood, closer to the main road (Front St) while as you would imagine, the fish place is at the water’s edge.

Empty a couple of year ago, now with two artisan tenants

Empty a couple of years ago, now with two artisan tenants. A perfect fit for a grand old brick building

At the marina large trawlers surrounded us; a 1998 Fleming m/v Bee Haven in front of us on the face dock. While I finished up laundry, Russ had been chatting with her owners and next thing I know we are getting a tour of this stately vessel; remote-controlled shades, trash compactor, dumb-waiter and all!! At 60ft long you could get lost within her four levels, but I think we have the better dinghy. 🙂

Repeating myself certainly, but after Georgetown lies the 60 mile stretch to Charleston Harbor, much of it through the Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge. Not every trip yields postcard-worthy photos but the scenery is lovely and a bald eagle can always be spotted. If you are lucky you might spot a gator, but the one we saw in Georgetown before we left was photo-worthy.

very dead, very bloated as he flaoted by with the ebb tide past the marinas

Very dead, very bloated as he floated by with the ebb tide past the marinas

Friday found Twin Sisters anchored in a creek just one hour shy of Saturday’s destination, Charleston Maritime Center. We passed many sails throughout the day (had a nice chat with s/v Circe II from our home area) but as we approached Inlet Creek, the only boat ahead turned in and AIS indicated at least one other. So what’s the problem? Creek too small? No. But we had to anchor either before (close to the ICW) or past them with a hazard mark warning of an unknown snag problem with the end result one poor boat needed a diver to get them un-snagged. Let’s avoid that shall we?
The Captain had warned that if we had to anchor at all close to the hazard he was going to use the old anchor that we still had tucked away in a bow locker. I voted (more like pleaded) for dropping the shiny hook before the other boats but Russ would have none of that. So he turned the flybridge helm over to his trusty albeit nervous Admiral to motor slowly in, past the anchored boats, wave nicely, maintain position, then spin around and slowly head for the middle of the creek. While I am doing this, he dives into the locker, brings up anchor and rode and rigs up a way to drop it in, bring it to center and put on a bridle once the anchor has set. Thank goodness for very low wind and since I’d handled the helm like this, oh maybe 2 or 3 times, sure, no sweat. The throttles are smooth as glass and a pleasure to use and with the help of eyeballs and a zoomed-in chart view we managed to anchor dead center. All good, right? But looked how “well” we did :

Not the spot you really want to anchor on

We nailed the hazard mark! Using the old anchor hopefully ensured it would raise up fine Sat a.m.

For those not familiar with all this electronic chart stuff and what integrates with what, or not. Let me explain our situation; others will differ. We have a 10-yr-old Raymarine chartplotter/radar screen; call it what you will. In its day, it was darn top of the line. On Ortolan we had newer Garmin instruments, which we liked better but are getting accustomed to old Ray. 🙂  On our new (to us) iPad we use Garmin BlueChart that supports ActiveCaptain, an online cruising guide and then some!

Compare iPad to Raymarine CP

Compare iPad to Raymarine- the iPad screen and chart view is sharper and easier to look at

So we can see ourselves on the Raymarine screens (lower and upper helm), but we only have one iPad and right now it doesn’t have a protective case nor a mounting bracket to place it by the helm. When anchoring today, the iPad with ActiveCaptain and therefore showing the hazard marks, etc sat safe inside at the “master” helm but I was operating from the bridge.

Layers of sunset over Charleston

Layers of sunset over Charleston

A beautiful ending to a pleasant day, but then the grill wouldn’t start and the mosquitoes swarmed and well, we stayed inside.

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Yes Ma’am! Fine creek dining

Sunset off Daufuskie Island, looking toward Savannah

Sunset off Daufuskie Island, looking toward Savannah

We often joke about being in a creek for the night and how that is so budget friendly, because where do you spend money up a creek? Maybe if you need that paddle, but otherwise you stay aboard or take Fido to shore a few times assuming there’s a place to land the dinghy.

Since we have oodles of time to get to Myrtle Beach why not take things slow and see what new adventures can be stirred up? Preferably not of the running aground kind which sure would stir up the muddy bottom!

Hilton Head got the pass-by every trip and we looked at the situation again (marinas, location) and it still came up short. But the island that lies close by is Daufuskie Island and it had what we were looking for. After departing Jekyll Island we next stopped for the night in New TeaKettle Creek and after that was Breakfast Creek; we tried to act appropriately.

A high tide the other boats are easy to see

A high tide the other boats are easy to see

At low tide the boats disappear into the marsh grass

At low tide the boats disappear into the marsh grass

Friday would find us crossing the border (the Savannah River) into South Carolina and happy to have transited through Georgia without mishap. A bunch of other cruising boats who we’d been seeing (and hearing on the VHF) for the past week were feeling pretty good too. Unfortunately when you are 6’ draft boat you need to be darn lucky, use enough tide or have an up-to-date online cruising guide (like you know who).

Immediately after crossing the Savannah River one enters Fields Cut where you must hug or strongly favor the red marker at the southern entrance (the less tide the more hugging) and keep to that side before moving to center. Then when you are about to exit at the north you’d better hug and kiss the green side if you don’t have enough tide help. A 7 to 8 ft tide range is typical in these parts. The daymarks could be moved, but why do that when you can cause excitement and backups when a boat goes aground because they don’t know the special path? So stupid.

We decided to begin our day at 11 am which would allow us to run on one engine and transit Fields Cut at mid-rising tide. Our day would end around 4pm and when we looked for a good anchoring spot (a creek, small river) we found a spot in the New River just off the ICW and across from Daufuskie Landing. A reviewer mentioned taking your dinghy to the great floating docks and enjoying a meal at Marshside Mamas. Well if that wasn’t intriguing!

Shortly after we upped anchor, uh oh a boat had run aground at the north end of Fields Cut. Where the rivers bend and snake around too much, skinny cuts are created to bypass the long loops which allows you to move along north or south in a straighter line. Shoaling is a problem in many of these cuts and the situation has worsened measurably even since 2010. So this fearless monohull attempts to transit the cut on a falling tide. TowBoatUS is called and he has difficulty getting them off- over an hour. The Coast Guard sticks their nose in and several others sneak by on the green side with no problem, but with caution. One boat comes along and we hear this “Are all these boats aground?” No, just lining up to get by.

Marshside Mama’s, in business for 18 years is simply the coolest place with funky décor, mostly outside seating and happy wait staff. Our meals, oysters and drinks (their rum drink is the Marshside, of course) were outstanding and we’d have returned the next night in a heartbeat.

First, some island history

First, some island history

Side Two and some lady jumped into the shot

Side Two and some lady jumped into the shot

Guess you would call this the backside as we approached from the dock

Guess you would call this the backside as we approached from the dock

Oysters Fuskie- excellent. I think the greens are collards

Oysters Fuskie- excellent. I think the greens are collards

The menu board and Jen our waitress

The menu board and Jen our waitress

 

Russ selected the ribs and I had the Shrimp and Grits which was so fresh and deelish.

Our table and one other was on a tiny stage off the ground. A brush fire with ample smoke helped keep bugs away.

 

Head Over Heels in Love

All this writing of anchoring brings to mind our new loves, often called marriage saving headsets. These are wireless, lightweight sets made by Eartec. Full duplex allows simultaneous talking.  They aren’t completely wireless though. A wire connects the low profile head-piece to the transceiver unit which you clip to your belt or stick in a pocket and hope it doesn’t fall out. Bet the next generation is Bluetooth for total wireless-ness!

We’d heard good things about these sets, from fellow cruisers as well as the Siegels on m/v aCapella (the creators of ActiveCaptain) who wrote about their experience. During our ordering from Defender frenzy in Vero we bit the bullet and got a set since they were on sale. They use rechargeable batteries which are soldered in to the transceiver and you just plug the whole thing in to a charger.

Believe it or not, I wasn’t pushing to add one more thing to our inventory of stuff on board. We managed quite well thank you using hand signals and the occasional wild gesturing, yet at times they’d be not simply marriage saving, but anchor chute saving!

Russ wearing the Master headset.

Russ wearing the Master headset.

Lori sports the Remote set- better name would be Commander!

Lori sports the Remote set- better name would be Commander!

The first few times I forgot I could talk and was still doing the hand signaling more than verbalizing.  Once I got the hang of it, I have to admit that I do love these sets, aka talking heads. Even the wind doesn’t interfere with clear and clean communication and they’ve taken our anchoring choreography from satisfying to incredible. 🙂 Don’t need them when we raise anchor unless we’re dealing with a lot of wind and then Russ can give me better directions on how much throttle is needed to keep us straight-on to the chain as it comes up. As an unexpected bonus, the sets help when we drop the main, a process that requires many “go lefts” and “go rights” as we work to get it down inside the lazy jacks and stack pack. Guess we’ll find them useful when docking too. Directions given to me by the dockhands can be relayed to Russ who can’t hear them.  With only a few weeks of use we can say that the money was well spent; they are comfortable and easy to use, deliver perfect clarity and our anchoring looks better than ever! Makes me feel a bit like a yachtie.

Calabash Creek: Shutterbug Scenic

We met a boat in Charleston; one of their first statements was, “Marilyn hates the ICW.” True that; their Q flag was flying as they entered the harbor, a sure sign of Bahamas being their last port. If Ortolan drew more than 5ft we’d wouldn’t be so keen on the ICW either. Fortunately we only draw 3ft, but mostly Russ behaves like we need more.

Have I mentioned bridges lately? No doubt I’m due to whine about them again.
Snows Cut connects the Cape Fear River, north of Southport, NC, to the ICW at Carolina Beach. A fixed bridge spans the cut for vehicle convenience and boater annoyance. A couple of weeks ago we checked the Coast Guard’s Local Notice to Mariners, an extensive (but not exhaustive) listing of stuff to take note of, such as missing channel markers, dredging projects and bridge construction/repairs. One cannot go along the ICW fat, dumb and happy… and remain that way. If so, kudos to you! By the time we’re done checking weather, notices, ActiveCaptain, more weather, I’ve got a headache. Maybe I need more wine.

So we see that the span is being re-painted from Dec 2012 until April 30, 2013, with clearance reduced 4ft. Um, perhaps we could dawdle more. Years ago the old paint would have been removed and the new paint applied. Environmental regs require that the area be curtained off and a big vacuum used as the old paint is sandblasted off as well as remove new paint fumes. A corrugated platform is hung under the span and pieces of canvas are used to cover the span, forming a cocoon. This is what causes the clearance reduction, meaning that at normal high tide 61ft is available and 65ft at low. We need approximately 62 ½’. Hang on I’m getting to the scenic stuff. Not trusting the accuracy of the info and knowing that we have a mast top air tube that doesn’t bend, we wanted to pass under closer to low tide, which was either going to be around 6:30 am or 6:30 pm. We opted for evening low tide and could stop for the night at Carolina Beach, just a mile away.
Based on that schedule, we opted to begin our bad bridge day 40 nm away at Calabash Creek.

A trawler squeezes past a shrimper preparing to head out the inlet.

A trawler squeezes past a shrimper preparing to head out the inlet.

Really the end of Calabash River just off the ICW where on the other side it continues out to the Little River Inlet; a stone’s throw to the North Carolina border. The creek offered tree-lined North to East protection with marsh on the opposite shore. One m/v and s/v already anchored, but I think we got the best spot in between them. Low tide was showing the mud along the shore where happy egrets and a heron made their dinner selections. Spied an osprey, heard but didn’t see a woodpecker and as you may have already guessed, played Sally Shutterbug. Oh, plus we talked with Benj almost an hour; life is good.

Reflecting or ready to strike?

Reflecting or ready to strike?

Our evening shoreside view at Calabash Creek

Our evening shore side view at Calabash Creek

Close Encounters

Broken record time again. Have you wondered how much longer we can say that and others will understand? “Repeat” just doesn’t cut it. So, another cold front is due while we’re in St Augustine; winds over 20kts, clocking around, rain, blah, blah, blah.  As I may have mentioned last fall, the St Augustine is not a “class A” all weather inlet. Even though it was dredged summer 2012, the buoys used to mark the channel are so small you need a damn good spyglass to find them buried in the 3-story high waves that routinely reside there- well ok not that bad- but almost. Many a boat has not only been grounded, but wrecked attempting to use this inlet in less than good conditions. On Friday, a large well-lit sign (if one existed) would have read, “DO NOT USE.”  No worry we’d ever use it again except in mirror glass conditions!

Saturday, and this will lead into a big pet peeve of mine- maybe it bugs others too- we planned a very short day. Our next stop was just across the GA border at the southern end of Cumberland Island by the Dungeness ruins.  Dungeness is pronounced with a slight accent on the “ness”, not the “Dun”.  This trip was a bit too long for one day so we split it in two with the short day first in an attempt to travel longer with favorable currents. That morning the Coast Guard makes one of their mumbled announcements and we catch a few words, “Sister’s Creek, closed to traffic, 3pm.” Uh?  Another befuddled cruiser calls the CG for clarification and we learn that thanks to some “round up” event, the ICW will in fact be closed to boat traffic until 3pm Saturday. Well, thank goodness we’d planned a two-hour day and wouldn’t be going that far.  Then, when we finally hear the announcement in full, the time is given as “from 5pm to 3pm.” Idiots- we know they mean 5am! If English was not our first language those announcements would surely be completely Greek!

The ICW through St Augustine takes you uncomfortably close to the inlet and the spit of beach that sits at the head on the north side. As we approached, this is the site we couldn’t help but stare at. What the? Mr. Curious got the “rest of the story” later.

On the plus side, sand is kinder to a boat than rocks

On the plus side, sand is kinder to a boat than rocks

Seems like the boat with just the captain and his dog aboard, was traveling (not sure north or south, but I’m thinking north) in his 30’ sailboat that only had an outboard engine at the stern. This means that if a wave lifts the stern out, the outboard doesn’t work well. Props like to remain IN the water. He diverted to St Augustine at midnight (Wed/Thurs) due to the approaching front.  A pitch-dark approach may have been a worse choice than continuing to St John’s River 30miles north. The channel, just to make things more exciting, has a dog leg approach close to shore. What are the chances this boat could safely navigate in? He almost made it. As the boat hit bottom and bounced, the beach welcomed it with open arms. Sure hope he got dug out.

For several days we’d been in touch with Indigo. They were in crossing and zooming mode starting Easter Sunday. Shared itineraries, but my words were, “..think we are fated to only meet up once per season.” Saturday’s anchorage was Pine Island with a wide and not too deep creek just off the ICW. By dark four boats called it home. Sunday, we overslept a bit and when I did my usual iPhone checking of emails and weather, the cell signal was too weak so I gave up. Cereal in bowls, milk about to be poured. Russ points out a catamaran heading north. “They must have left early”, I comment, figuring most boats leave from St Augustine. Then, picking up that trusty spyglass, Russ says, “looks like a Chris White… oh wait, it’s Indigo!” Sure enough, those speed demons did 100 miles Saturday, arriving at St Augustine in time to go into town. Glenn had emailed earlier, asking if we were at Pine Island, but I hadn’t gotten it yet, so instead we had a pleasant surprise and kicked fate in the butt. By 10:30 they’d arrived at their destination marina near Jacksonville; flying home that afternoon. Sure, leave us to enjoy the skinny water south of Fernandina.

Indigo drops by to say hello. Until next season then.

Indigo drops by to say hello. Until next season then.

Unlike m/v BIG Wave, we managed to not go aground in the stretch between St John’s River and Fernandina. Unlike m/v BIG Wave, we use ActiveCaptain. We shouldn’t be so smug though. For our trip on Sunday, Russ figured out the tides and currents, which isn’t easy due to the three sizable inlets that would affect us. Since we’re not usually in a rush, we run on one engine to save fuel. Using number two  adds 1 knot of speed at most, so when possible we like to have a favorable current helping us along, but not too much. A stretch south of where the ICW crosses the St John’s River is notorious for very strong current at “maximum”. Kinda like NYC’s Hell Gate, except under a bridge with a very narrow span with a river bend that keeps you from seeing if another boat is approaching. Amounts to choosing the lesser of two weevils (yes, I used that word intentionally); the crappy stretch from Fernandina to St Augustine via the ICW or the offshore run where the St Mary’s inlet at Fernandina is great and St Augustine can suck. We are 3 times inside and 3 times outside.

The trip provided photo-worthy scenery like this osprey with fish

The trip provided photo-worthy scenery like this osprey with fish

So back to the tides and currents: A+ on the currents and D- on having us transit a much shoaled-in stretch at low tide. Mucho thanks to ActiveCaptain and the hazard markers that warned us and told us how to proceed; to the vessels ahead of us; and to our minimal 3ft draft. With a tidal range of 6-7ft from roughly the St John’s River through much of South Carolina, the absence of deep draft boats is as noticeable as is the presence of comments such as, “gee how’d you like that Amelia River stretch?”  In all fairness to the captain, we really didn’t have much choice in where we were and when that day and s/v Cat Ching (get it?) zoomed along fine using his path from last fall. Cheater 🙂

4:30 found us anchored in GA off Cumberland Island, ready for a perfect weather day Monday where we’d finally explore the Dungeness ruins and trails.

Course Change Required- aka A Diversion

Cat Island, home of The Hermitage, was our next planned stop, followed by Little San Salvador and Eleuthera. Oh, but the weather had other ideas for us. Friday promised to be another great sailing day and as it turned out, good thing for that. Cat Island sits approx 30nm NNW of Conception; we left at 7:30 figuring we might be able to go ashore later that afternoon. As we’ve all experienced, the best laid plans often never come to fruition. About 10 miles away from land we got cell service, none obviously available on Conception. The approaching front was looking to have strong SW winds, clocking W, then NW; more of an event than we cared to sit out in Cat’s New Bight with no west protection. Herr Otto Pilot was immediately given a 20 degree course change while the worried crew studied the chart to determine where to run and hide.
And run we did; the course change improved our angle to the wind and we sped along over 8kts, the ever-increasing waves at our stern not bothering us any. Other than trying to get a slip at Hawk’s Nest Marina on Cat Island our only other option was to get over to the Exuma chain, go in a safe cut and find a protected spot. We heard another boat going into Hawk’s Nest but we nixed that figuring not many marinas have much space for cats and did we want to blow the dockage budget anyway? Our excellent heading would take us to the excellent Little Farmer’s Cut; perfect. Anchored by 5:30, a 70nm day behind us, and the next day we’d head 30nm north to try for a mooring at Cambridge Cay (in the ECLSP) with a backup anchoring spot behind Bell Island.

Luckily we had that backup spot because all 14 balls were full. We did not see a single boat underway the entire 30nm trip (5hrs). We were the last boat in behind Bell Island; two monos, one trawler and one yacht before us, but we snagged a perfect spot close in. Gotta love being a cat. The anchor held right off; always a huge plus with big wind coming. For once the front arrived in daylight, although just barely. Here’s the sequence of events beginning around 1pm: Russ checks anchor using kayak, wind picks up, fellow cruiser provides Chris Parker WX update, took showers, watched front approach around 5:30 and rain begins 5:45. The wind topped out at 30kts but mostly we saw 18-22kts although it felt like less. The wind shifted from SW to W, finally settling in for the night at NW. We set out our bucket to catch rainwater. Really felt quite safe and our only worry was hoping that the wind did not shift to N or NE to soon as we’d lose all our protection when it did; then time to go.

What big storm? I can paddle in any weather

What big storm? This gal can paddle in any weather..trying to reach her yacht…

No mistaking this leading edge of a well defined front

No mistaking this leading edge of a well-defined front

Decided this might be a good time to test out ActiveCaptain’s Drag Queen alarm. It worked well during testing and I’m happy to say that the alarm did not sound in the real overnight test. One of my biggest fears is dragging during a windy dark night. Bad enough if your anchor pulls out but imagine if the shackle broke and you became separated from your best friend? Now you’ve got to get things under control (hope you haven’t hit anything behind you) and launch your backup anchor; which we have sitting ready to go at the bow. Not every boat does.
Sunday was a post frontal cloudy, cool day and we kept busy with baking muffins, washing clothes in a bucket and discussing where to move to once the wind shifted north. Considerable discussion also ensued because in very windy conditions I am at the bow while Russ takes the helm. This infrequent role reversal requires establishing good hand signals as well as a backup plan should I have poor job performance. Fortunately we had this: PPPPPP- the 6Ps. Leave a comment if you business folks know what all those Ps stand for. The one possible spot to re-anchor in was on the other side of Bell, which was now in the lee, but a major project was underway so we passed that by and headed down toward a spot on the south end of Pipe Cay.

Commercial? Private? Not sure, but unlike many, it's actively in progress

Commercial? Private? Not sure, but unlike many, it’s actively in progress

Monday after breakfast we moved again for even better protection from ENE winds which had calmed down to a tolerable 14-19kts. Ran the watermaker using solar power thanks to a mostly sunny day- which also was a good day for more bucket laundry (we had to skip BlackPoint so I was WAY overdue for a washing machine). We ended up with a bright yellow neighbor; note the similar cockpit enclosure.

Big yellow cat with matching dinghy

Big yellow cat with matching dinghy

Conception Island- almost paradise, 2/13-2/14

This beautiful island nestled in the Far Bahamas is described in our Explorer Chartbook as”…paradise within paradise in that it is preserved in its primitive natural state as part of the Bahamas National Trust. As more “armadas” of boats escape for a sojourn from the fleet at Elizabeth Harbor and discover the beauty….” The island lays 15nm NE from the tip of Long Island and 50nm from Elizabeth Harbor. The only anchorage in prevailing easterlies (NE – SE) is West Bay and it can hold a generous quantity of boats. Your typical cruising vessel is not the only creature to be drawn in by the magnetic pull of remoteness, crystalline waters, mangrove creeks and long-tailed tropic birds. We were very surprised to find two mega yachts and a stealth-like dark-colored boat the likes you might see in a Bond movie or a futuristic flick. Kinda ruined the primitive natural paradise view of things; until they all departed.

It's a stealth machine, but what's it doing in paradise?

It’s a stealth machine, but what’s it doing in paradise?

The island is perfect for dinghy exploration with miles of interior mangrove creeks to poke around in and simply lose oneself in Mother Nature’s beauty.

We diverted off the central creek to this crystal clear branch

We diverted off the central creek to this crystal clear branch

West Bay faces a long, sandy white crescent beach, ideal for a beach stroll, tented beach party (if you own a mega yacht) and to land your dinghy anywhere you so desire.

Ortolan anchored in gorgeous West Bay, Conception Island

Ortolan anchored in gorgeous West Bay, Conception Island

The day held true to forecast and Ortolan and crew enjoyed a lovely sail at 6kts, two fishing lines out but no bites even though we altered course through the contour lines north of Long Island. About two miles out the watermaker began her job and made us a steady 7 gph for a few hours. That’s our usual M.O. when we can’t run it underway. Have I mentioned we really like our watermaker and don’t see how other cruisers manage without one? Even though we can’t always make water when we want, having the ability to and not having to rely solely on marinas or local water spigots, is a huge plus and allows us more flexibility in planning our itinerary.
Thursday morning we launched the dinghy, checked the anchor like a responsible boater should – heck it’s easy in clear water, impossible when we are not in the Bahamas – and zoomed along the 1 ¼ miles to the mangrove creek entrance.

Just inside the entrance to the interior of Conception Island

Just inside the entrance to the interior of Conception Island

Much of the interior creeks are deep enough to dinghy through any time, but the entrance as well as a few important stretches are best attempted within a couple of hours of high tide. This assumes you know when the tides change. Perhaps I’ll delve into that hot topic another time.
Top priority was to get in and find the green turtle area. A reviewer on ActiveCaptain gave good directions, saying that once in the lagoon one needs to follow the left branch into the deep green section. That sounded simple enough and we only almost messed up once! Sure enough toward the dead-end section to the left, the water was much deeper and greener; best of all, filled with at least a dozen green turtles. Shy ones though and they don’t give you much time to photograph them. We drifted and paddled; using the outboard just enough to keep us off the rocks. One guy was more curious, or just not paying attention because twice he surfaced within 10ft of our bow, looked up at us and dove back down. As if to say, “hey I see you and no you can’t take my picture, so there!” And right he was, but I did manage to track another and caught him as he surfaced.

My best green turtle shot. Good thing the camera is digital!

My best green turtle shot. Good thing the camera is digital!

Green turtle hangout territory

Green turtle hangout territory

A better weather day I could not have wanted; sunny with a high of 80 and just enough breeze to keep me comfortable but not so much that I felt windblown. Another piece of info gleaned from ActiveCaptain was how to get to Babbies Bay over on the ocean side. Now, our chart showed nothing called Babbies Bay but the directions appeared to guide you to a lovely crescent beach that would be ripe for finding sea beans.

Two teeny problems. One, Russ twists his knee as we pull the dinghy up on to the beach. (sure sounds like we need a better method, uh?) Solution: he goes back to ice his knee, leaving me to beachcomb. Second problem: the beach I am on after I cross from West Bay beach to the ocean side, is NOT Babbies Beach. As I get to the southern end of the beach #1 I see that a path continues up some rocks (with a rope for help up) and that must lead to Babbies Beach. (could that be a made up name?) Solution: have water, camera, Tevas- will hike. Yes, me alone.  Another dinghy was beached near ours and I didn’t see anyone nearby so I figured they’d trekked to Babbies and maybe I wouldn’t be totally alone. (wrong)

The path pretty much wound its way close to the edge of the rocky cliffs and one wrong step and I’d be history; a broken shell on the stones below. In places it moved far enough away from the edge and for that I was very happy. Around every bend I hoped to see “the beach.”  Alas no.  After a bit I got to a section where the path was simply the rocky edge, very crumbly and most assuredly one wrong step and I’d be a goner. With someone, maybe. Alone, no way.  The land past there jutted out just enough to prevent my seeing what lay beyond- that darn beach I bet! Hopes dashed- but not my body thankfully, I made my way back-stopping to snap a few photos and thinking I was getting too much sun!

Looking north along the path less traveled- by me!

Heading back north along the path less traveled- by me!

Fortunately, the beachcombing goddess “Seabenia” took pity on me and I easily found several beans and one curious sand crab who didn’t know or care about the time.

Wasn't easy to get this guy and not my shadow too.

Wasn’t easy to get this guy and not my shadow too.

Russ’s knee was not a major disaster- thank goodness, or we’d be in Florida now.  I checked the chart and saw that my hike along the cliffs was at least one half mile. Maybe next time, if those rocks don’t crumble more…