Friday, June 3, 2016

Arrival in the Bahamas and Catching Up with Black Cat

Gendron family on Layla one afternoon at Mangrove Cay.

Cruising is more than simply sailing (or motoring) around from place to place.  One of the great joys is meeting the other people of like minds that go to the sea.  The cruising community is an incredibly diverse group that challenges one description for them all.  It seems fitting that we would begin our journey by meeting up with another cruising family that was ending theirs.  We met the French Canadian crew of Black Cat last November at the Morehead City Docks, just as they were heading from North Carolina to the British Virgin Islands.  Bernard and Karine had a year of leave from their jobs, and were taking their two children, Victor (10) and Mia (8), on a Caribbean circumnavigation to include the French Islands especially.  We attempted to keep in touch as best travelers can these days by email, and by position reports and messages from their satellite transmitter (InReach) as well as their blog.  We were pleased to hear they were returning from their Caribbean voyage through the Exumas in the Bahamas.  Would it be possible that we could actually meet?  We were preparing to cross the Gulf Stream... 

It was remarkable that after all that time and the distance, there was Black Cat coming into the anchorage in the Bahamas on Sunday, the day after we had arrived.  With hugs and kisses, we caught up on their stories and discussed where we might travel together, at least for a couple of days.  The following day was Monday and Bernard and Richard took the dinghy into the marina to meet with the Customs official.  We learned at the fuel dock that the official was at the airport but would return “sometime today”.   And then we learned that it was also a holiday.  It was “Witt Monday”.  Nobody was really sure what “Witt Monday” is all about, but in the Bahamas (or anywhere) when you are told you have a holiday, you take it.  All other businesses were closed.  This was just one of the many observations you could make that reminded you - “you are in a different place”.  And you know, that was just OK.  A little while later the Customs official arrived and motioned Richard to the air conditioned office.  The official was quite business-like and efficient with assisting in completing the variety of forms. A nod completed the process and then there was the exchange of an envelope of $300 cash for the privilege of staying in the Bahamas.  It was thrilling!

Raising the Bahamian courtesy flag after taking down the yellow quarantine flag.  We are officially cleared in.

After we cleared in, and Black Cat cleared out from Customs and Immigration, we spent a day at the Old Bahama Bay Resort and Marina in West End indulging in the pool, beach, and grill.  

Two free fish (“yellow eyes”) given by a sportfisher for part of our dinner.

The 'Grill Girl', Mia, assisting with dinner.

Preparing one 'yellow eye' for ceviche and the other for grilling.

We then spent the next week cruising across the Little Bahama Banks from West End to Great Sale Cay.  We motor sailed about halfway across the Banks where we anchored at the uninhabited island of Mangrove Cay to wait out a pesky series of squalls with strong winds, and impressive lightning and rain.  We traveled another 20 miles to the uninhabited island of Great Sale Cay and spent the next several days exploring the beaches and snorkeling.  The weather continued to challenge us with wind and rain.  Finally, a weather window finally came for Black Cat to cross the Gulf Stream and return to the US and begin the final leg to a US boatyard where Black Cat would be put up for sale.  We all felt that this was happening far too fast.  We were not prepared to say goodbye but before we knew it, we were helping store the dinghy on deck and then watched as they weighed anchor and left the anchorage.  We waved goodbye as Black Cat headed back across the Banks and, on this leg, to Charleston, SC.  We are sure we will meet up again, maybe next time in Montreal.

Layla with her anchor light on in the midst of a menacing squall at Great Sale Cay.  Picture taken by Bernard from Blackcat.

Early birthday cake for Tracy made by Karine on Blackcat. 

Big kids coming over for play day on Layla.

Victor exploring Layla, down below.

Victor at play on Layla.

Mia, the swimming beauty, on deck.

Moon rising over Great Sale Cay.

Thunderstorm clouds in Great Sale Cay.

Sundown at Great Sale Cay.

Laughing gull seemed to want some company.  He was a repeat visitor in the late afternoons at Great Sale Cay.

Blackcat departing for their Gulf Stream crossing to the US.

We are on our own now.  After leaving Great Sale Cay, we continued along the Little Bahama Banks to Foxtown on the Little Abacos Island.  We indulged in a guilty pleasure of an indescribable lunch of “cracked conch” (breaded and fried) at “Da Valley” Restaurant.  Tracy spent her birthday there snorkeling with the turtles around Hawksbill Cays. 

Cracked conch lunch at “Da Valley” restaurant, Foxtown.

Tracy snorkeling with the turtles on Hawksbill Cays on her birthday.

Sunset at Foxtown, Abacos.

When a weather window opened up again, we headed towards Green Turtle Cay.  We anchored just north of the island in a cove between Manjack Cay and Crab Cay.  This anchorage is the first that we call a “destination”.  Manjack Cay is delightfully tropical, with thick mangroves lining the middle of the cay, coral ledges on the Abaco Sea side, and silky pink sand lining the Atlantic Ocean side.  The water is unbelievably colorful.  We are anchored in a sea grass bed which is littered with living sea biscuits and just about as many sea biscuit tests (dead shells).  These tests are beautiful, and lay on the bottom like a present to be picked up.  The shallower areas are home to sea urchins.  Tracy is in heaven here!  (You may know she spent several years studying sea urchins for her dissertation research.)  Snorkeling on the ocean side along rocky areas, a variety of sea urchins that can withstand the high energy of waves were found, along with sea fans, corals, and a multitude of colorful fish from sergeant majors, huge parrot fish, butterfly fish, angel fish, wrasses, and so many more.  We are enjoying our time here.  We have arrived.

Solitude.  Beach at Manjack Cay ocean side.

Calm day Atlantic Ocean side of Manjack Cay.

Exploring the north end of Manjack Cay by dinghy, watching a thunderstorm pass.

Standing on ancient reef on the ocean side of Fiddle Cay.

Sea biscuit test (dead) on sea grass bed at Fiddle Cay.

Queen conch (alive) in the sea grass beds at Manjack Cay.

Tiki hut in a bay off of the anchorage at Manjack Cay.

But, as we have discovered many times on this travel, the weather will dictate what we do next and the weather will be changing soon.  We will need to find a better place to anchor for “an indefinite time”, as the weather guru advises.  We expect to move on to Green Turtle Cay next, and then settle in at Marsh Harbor. 

Diving for sea urchins at Manjack Cay.

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  1. Looks like a heavenly experience. I missed snorkeling this year. No spring vakay for me this year. Instead we are looking forward to Alaska and Italy

  2. Beautiful pictures I want those of the kids if it's possible. I miss you and the wonderful time we got together!


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