Making our way to the Exumas.
After our friends left for home we spent a day reprovisioning and trying to fix the dinghy outboard engine, which now seems to no longer want to start (apparently it enjoyed that little shark episode more than we did). Finally got it up and running and was feeling pretty good about things, so the next day we rushed to get out of the marina and ran back to the little anchorage we found and enjoyed with them off the northwest end of rose harbor.
We pulled in with ample time to explore and after dropping anchor hopped in to the dinghy to go snorkel the reef we never got time for last time. Made it out just over the reef and as we drop the look bucket into the water to try and find a place to drop anchor the engine dies. Argh!!
We drift around for a long while and then finally get it up and running just long enough to get back (within a short paddle) of the boat. It quickly becomes apparent that our hopes of avoiding Nassau aren’t going to happen and we reluctantly pull into the bustling port the next day looking for some assistance with the outboard. We drop anchor close to the industrial marina in a sketchy spot (not sure about the holding of our anchor in the strong currents), so Jen stays on board to watch while I take off toward town in the dinghy. The engine dies again before I’m even a boat length away and I have to paddle my way through the ripping current and the insanity of a port that is clearly not meant for small boats, much less guys in a dinghy trying not to get swept out to sea! =/
I spent the day working with a few local mechanics, pulling the engine apart and eventually dissecting the carb (really starting to feel like the old VW Bus days now). Apparently for all the value of the 4stroke outboard, its really not a very good idea in this part of the world where you often find bad fuel and overall not a very clean environment.
I went to shore having already called around and prepared to buy a new outboard if that’s what it came to for us to get out of town today… but the outboard is currently back up and running (though now with almost zero confidence from us), so I headed back to the boat with the sun getting low and we made some quick calls to find a marina to tuck into and wait out the night. We donated a bit of money to the craps table at the casino and tried to finally figure out where we’re heading in the morning.
For weeks everyone we’ve met has been heading to the Exumas. Many seemed like they were headed straight there from FL, the rest stopped over just to wait out the storm and then headed directly there… we seem to be moving more slowly than everyone yet also feel like we’re already flying past things as it is.
With our friends gone we had to make a decision… do we head back north to the Berry Islands and over to Eluthera or point south for the Exumas. All the positive stories and photos we had heard simply got the best of us… we just couldn’t get ourselves to backtrack and decided it was the Exumas for sure!
We charted a course, tested the outboard one last time in the morning and set sail across the dreaded yellow banks (they turn out to be far less dreaded than we had read). The crossing was actually a lovely, smooth and uneventful sail. One of the first where we both felt confident enough and the conditions allow for a few hours to lay back and simply enjoy. To take in the quiet, appreciate the beauty around us and to think.
The last third saw me standing on the deck watching out for coral heads just to make sure we didn’t have any rude happenings and then we finally saw land and arrived before sunset at Allen’s Cay.
We passed around to the “inside” and found a handful of boats nestled in between Allen and Leaf Cay.
Apparently most people pull in here to see the group of (now endangered) pink iguanas that live on Leaf Cay. In fact most people only know the entire group of islands as “Iguana Beach” and stay right in front of the beach for easy access to take a selfie with the now obese lizards. We still have an aversion to anchoring in crowds (or being in crowds in general) and choose to go anchor in the wraparound bay at South Allen Cay instead. That would put us just a stones throw away but suddenly we felt very much alone… and it turns out our own private beach had some iguanas of its own and saves us the trip to Leaf entirely!
We spent a day here exploring the beach, hanging out with the iguanas, and simply marveling at the color of the water and how perfect this little bay and its lone tall pam three was… and then moved on.
As we set our course and pulled up anchor it immediately struck us why people are so drawn to the Exumas.
Every island is only a few hours sail (at most) away and the water is impossibly blue throughout because its so shallow (at least if you stay on the inside). We opted to head outside for the chance to drop lines in the water and hoping for a fish, but only proceeded the whopping 30minutes south to Highbourne Cay. We pulled in again to an empty bay and dropped anchor, still able to see the single palm tree we stared at yesterday, but now from the other side and across the water.
This suddenly seems so similar to the slow steady pace at which we traveled back when we lived in the VW Bus… literally not missing a single beach on the way south through Mexico and Central America. They say the Exumas have 365islands, “one for every day of the year”…and it’s suddenly our goal to stay at every single one of them!
Highbourne Cay offers a bit more protection from all sides so we stayed here for a few days… most of the time without another boat in sight. I’m not sure what we expected, but based upon the number of boats we’ve met headed to the Exumas I guess we assumed every anchorage would be slap full of boats.
We got in a couple more days of writing, researching the islands ahead of us, fishing, playing the guitar and dinghying over to the beach to explore and snorkel. For the first time since leaving FL we had nowhere to be and no major pressing projects. We mostly just settled into the speed of things here, and it truly started to feel idyllic.
We finally decided to look into hopping another island south. We’re now a week in to the Exumas and we haven’t even made it to most people’s first destination. In fact the only boats we see so far are still day tours coming down from Nassau for the lizards, most then continuing further south for the Pigs.
It’s hard to believe as we can hardly make ourselves discuss leaving each island… I could easily see us spending a week or two at each perfect little island anchorage without a want for anything.
Maybe we’re doing this whole cruising thing wrong… I don’t know. Theres’ no book or set of instructions we could find, so we’re just gonna keep slowly meandering our way south at this speed.
Frankly… we’re loving it. Every single second of it.
Of course, we are feeling so good about the status of things that we wake up one morning and decide to try and tackle our alternator and why its not topping off our batteries while underway. This hasn’t yet been a huge concern for us because the solar is doing a decent job of keeping us going and when/if we need it we always have the generator as a backup for topping off.
Jen fires up the engines as I grab the voltmeter and start opening the hatch to the port engine compartment, but even before I get the hatch open the engine sputters to a stop. WHAT?!
There it is. Immediately everything goes from island time and a peaceful easy feeling to full tilt in the direction of emergency. We are clearly not educated at diesel engine repair (or really any engine other than the old VW 4 cylinder)… and frankly trying to avoid issues like this is precisely why we tried to buy the newest boat we could afford.
We do a pretty good job of calming the minds and working through the problem without panicking… but it’s amazing how quickly the brain can start to paint “what if?” scenarios about being stranded at sea without an engine, especially when we’re still several days sail from anywhere with even a possibility of a mechanic.
We worked through potential causes and finally decide it sounds like it’s not getting enough fuel. We check all the lines, try to bleed off some air at the pump and for a few seconds the engine sounds better…. we finally stumble upon the pre-filter for the fuel and empty the water out of the reservoir (and after inspecting the filter decide it should simply be swapped with a new one - luckily we already had one onboard). After a long period of learning/teaching ourselves to prime the fuel system we finally got the engine up and running again… though our peaceful easy feeling has a bit more trepidation than before.
But overall not too bad- a few hours spent in the engine compartment rather than snorkeling, but everything is working so we can’t complain. Oh… and no luck whatsoever in diagnosing the alternator issues. By all tests it’s working just fine, but for some reason no output is getting to our battery bank.
The hunt continues.