The Berries: Cistern, Rat, and Great Harbor Cay

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Miles: 53.9
Time: 8 hours 30 min
Avg Speed: 6.3
Max Speed: 8.1

February 29th, Thursday: We left Mackie Shoal at 6:30am (twilight) after a great night at anchor. We had to motor into the wind, it was not a pleasant ride, very little unfortunate sailing. Yesterday had been such a great day of sailing! We were very pumped to get to the Berry Islands.

We arrived at Cistern Cay, just north of Bullocks Harbor, and decided to anchor there. It was behind a small piece of land to our south and offered some coverage as the wind was shifting from East to South East and then to South overnight. The next few days looked bleak with high winds and rain.

March 1st, Friday: It was rainy and cloudy. The wind was blowing about 20 with higher gusts. We needed to make water and we always do a little laundry at the same time.

March 2nd, Saturday: Still rainy with lots of wind Stew put the engine on the dinghy but something was wrong and the engine would not start. Water was very rough so we were not planning to go anywhere today!

March 3rd, Sunday: Rained on and off all day. Did some editing for our Intentional Focus videos. Stew worked on the outboard engine and got it working. This allowed us to explore the beach. There were conch shells and hundreds of sand dollars. We didn’t see any fish though. The water was very clear.

The islands here look like they were formed by volcanic rock. The rock is very sharp and pitted. You really cannot go ashore other than at the beach. Beyond the beach are the very thick mangroves.

March 4th, Monday: We moved the boat to Rat Cay which was closer to Bullocks Harbor. The harbor gave us access to a dinghy dock so that we could provision. This was also closer to the “Blue Hole” and the wreck that we wanted to explore.

Once at Rat Cay Stew took a ride over the the beach to test the engine. This turned out to be a bad move as he ended up stranded. I could see him starting to row – it would have taken him hours to get back to the boat rowing against the current. Luckily another boater was checking out the wreck and saw Stew was in trouble. He was able to tow him back to the boat. It’s always fun to chat with other boaters and Sean from S/V Slow M’Ocean was very friendly. We appreciated his help!

We contacted Dirk Johnson from Fort Lauderdale – an engine guy to get his take on what the problem might be. He had some suggestions and Stew followed up on each. Luckily Stew is Mister-fix’it and he found the problem – it was a fuel line leak. He was able to cut the tubing and reuse part of it until we get some new tubing. So SO happy he fixed the motor.

We just purchased this motor about a week ago. Without a dinghy and motor our time in the Bahamas would be horrible. You really need something to get you too and from shore and to the various places to snorkel.

The rest of the day we spent relaxing and had a face-time call with Alyssa and Arlo (grandson that just turned one). That was really fun – he is such a comedian on the phone!

March 5th, Tuesday: Finally a nicer day today – sun was out! Outboard motor was fixed! We took off and explored the wreck (a 1987 DC-3 plane) – it sticks out of the water a little bit. We did not snorkel but just drove around it.

Next we visited the Blue Hole and did some snorkeling. That was a lot of fun. We didn’t see much but it was cool to swim around the Blue Hole. The Berry Islands have quite a few Blue Holes – they think the holes were formed by meteorites. The Blue Hole we were swimming around went from very shallow (2 feet) to over 100 feet deep in the hole. Really something!

The afternoon was spent going to Great Harbor Cay and provisioning. The place to dock our dinghy was not what we expected. Basically, there was just a concrete wall – but this was used by the water taxi that transport the employees to and from Little Stirrup Cay – where the resort and cruise lines are. So we ended up tying the dinghy to a floating platform. It didn’t have a good cleat or a place to lock it. Made me nervous that it would not be there when we returned. Looked like some shady characters were hanging around the area.

We did have fun walking through the little town. Not too many people around and shops were mostly closed. We did find the little grocery store – it had a few items, some produce that was imported from the States. We tried to get Stew some freshly baked bread but found you needed to order this a day ahead. We will remember for next time. We heard the bread was really fabulous.

Once we returned from provisioning we decided to move back to our anchorage at Cistern Cay. More bad weather was coming and we needed some protection from the South. This wind and weather was becoming a real downer.

But we did have a beautiful sunset – little did we know it was the calm before the storm!

March 6, Wednesday: We woke to overcast day with some wind. We needed to make water so we went ahead and started that process. Stew did some laundry in the cock pit and just as he finished the laundry and we started to fill the water tank (you have to wait a little for the RO watermaker to completely desalinate the water, which is why we do some laundry with the “non-drinkable” water)… The anchor started to drag. The wind was howling at this point and the sky was dark, rain was coming down. We had to shut everything down (the generator sits in the cockpit and really cannot get wet). While we were shutting things down Stew was working on holding us from dragging too far.

At this point we decided to pull up the anchor and try to set it again. To do this Stew must go to the bow of the boat and pull the anchor up while I steer in the cockpit. This is always a little scary when there is wind, rain and lightning going on around you. We had to do this 3 more times before the anchor finally grabbed.

In the Bahamas, three things could be on the ground below the water: rock, grass, or sand. The only thing that is considered good holding is the sand. But sometimes there is just a little sand sitting on rock. This doesn’t allow your anchor to grab and set. It often gives the illusion that it is set, but a high wind could pop it right out. You just never know until you start dragging. We use an anchor alarm to tell us we are dragging. Once you set the anchor you use the anchor coordinates to set up a circle with the anchor in the center and a radius determined by the amount of anchor chain you let out. If the boat drifts outside this circle then you know you are dragging the anchor.

It was an exhausting afternoon as we set and reset the anchor. We also had all the equipment for making water and hanging laundry everywhere. We ate a quick dinner and around 10pm we finally were able to finish making water. We both dropped into bed!!

March 7, Thursday: We had been sitting here at Cistern Cay/Rat Cay for a week waiting for the storms and wind to pass so we could head down to the south end and eventually to the Exumas. We gave up!

We decided to go north and around the top of the Berry Islands to the other side. The wind was from the south/South East so at least this would be pushing us and give us a change of scenery. Where we were had only “Bank water” which is from the Great Bahama Bank and it is green, reminds me of lake or river water in color. This is not the color we were planning to be snorkeling in. Plus we had seen no fish (Stew had even been fishing with no bites).

So we decided to head to the other side – Petite Cay or Great Harbor Cay East.

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