After three years of planning and preparation, my wife Terrie and I set out on our 1983 Beneteau First 35 Anduril for our most ambitious voyage to date. We had been out and back to Bermuda twice, but this time it was just the two of us with the turquoise waters of the Abacos as our goal. The weather cooperated, and we left Kent Island May 6 on a voyage down the Chesapeake, out to Bermuda, south to the Abacos, returning home July 10.
We took our time going down the Chesapeake. Mill Creek behind Solomons, Fishing Bay, and Little Creek provided easy stops and peaceful nights to gather our strength for non-stop ocean sailing. Little Creek provides marinas, groceries, and a last chance to get weather forecasts and email. The weather had been contrary all of April with north to northeast winds blowing against the Gulf Stream or south to southeast winds directly on our desired course. May came with a forecast full of westerly winds and moderate seas. With the boat loaded to capacity, we left the Chesapeake May 9 on a warm, sunny day.
Change of plans, Bermuda
We crossed the Gulf Stream May 10-11 in bumpy seas and southwesterly winds at 15-25 knots, with two reefs and the storm jib. After the Gulf Stream, we tried to hold a southerly course, but the waves made it difficult to maintain comfortable progress south. After tuning the HF radio to receive weather faxes, we saw some was weather coming up behind in a few days. We decided to alter our destination for Bermuda, but maintained a course south of the rhumb line to get under a warm eddy that was on the Gulf Stream charts.
The weather turned lighter, and we powered for day, getting a good re-charge and making another 120-mile run. Burning through half of your available fuel makes you start to worry about having enough, so we sailed on with light winds. The wind clocked around to the east and built to force 5-6 the evening of May 14. We were hard on the wind and tacking to make our approach around the southern end of the Bermuda and up the windward shore to St. Georges. The sky cleared, and under a bright sun and full sail, we charged through the deep blue waves reaching St. David’s Light at sunset. We were cleared in by Bermuda Radio, lined up the entrance channel making the customs dock by 9 p.m. and anchored in Powder Hole by 10:30 p.m.
While in Bermuda
This was our third visit to Bermuda, but the first time anchoring in Powder Hole for our first night. Waking up in a calm protected harbor makes a very relaxing transition compared to immediately docking and jumping off on wobbly sea legs. After a leisurely morning and straightening up our gear, we called the venerable Bernie Oatley and arranged for a spot at Captain Smokes Marina.
We spent the next two weeks exploring the sights of St. Georges and Bermuda by scooter and taxi plus three nights at anchor in Castle Harbor. We got daily weather forecasts from the Bermuda weather service, posted every morning at the customs office and off the free WiFi from the Yacht Services on Ordnance Island.
Last Chance to make the Abacos
As the days of May marched onward, I felt our chances of making the Abacos slipping by. Other boats were heading north to New England or across the Atlantic. Most people thought we were nuts to be heading south. The forecast turned in our favor with a front moving in and northwesterly winds forecasted for several days. On June 1, we pointed Anduril south with the winds and sea on our starboard quarter. After a few squalls, the skies cleared. We slipped to the southwest making 120-140 miles a day. The wind held for four days from the north, then a gradual shift to the south and southwest. We entered the Sea of Abaco through north Man O’War at noon June 7.
A hundred and 25 nautical miles from Little Creek to Grand is the same distance as Annapolis to Norfolk, but the water is 80 degrees and beautiful turquois blue, with anchorages, small towns, and harbors about every five miles. Checking in at Marsh Harbor, we soon pushed off to anchor out and explore the area.
Matt Lowes, Man-O-War, Hopetown, and then south to Sandy, Lynyard, and Little Creek. Sandy was one of our favorite cays with excellent diving and shelling. Pushing west to Guana, we anchored in Bakers Bay. There is excellent diving around the northwest corner. Further west, it gets more remote with Munjack, Allans-Pensacola, Great Sale, Grand, and Double Breasted. Double Breasted was one of our favorites with extensive tidal pools to explore: sand dollars and conch of every size and variety.
Tropical Storm Arthur started to brew north of us late in June. We started moving east looking for a safe harbor, WiFi, and groceries. We backtracked to Green Turtle and got a slip in the harbor for two nights to wait out the wind and heavy downpour. We had to move because Abaco Race Week was moving in, so we called ahead and got a slip at Orchid Bay on Great Guana. The storm was starting to move north, but the wind was still high as we landed at the fuel dock and then moved to our slip.
Back to the Chesapeake
We left Guana Cay July 3. Arthur became a hurricane that afternoon, 450 miles north of us, and swept past Hatteras and off to the northeast. With 15 knots from the south, we headed due north, wing on wing, for four days. As we converged with the Gulf Stream, we encountered a few squalls but almost always with the wind from the southwest speeding us north. At dawn July 8, we came up on a close reach to cut across the Gulf Stream, practically leaping from wave to wave. By noon, the seas calmed as we got under the lee of Cape Hatteras, but the wind stayed behind at Force 4-5 and pushed us all the way to Virginia Beach.
We stayed up all night as we entered the Bay, the AIS/CPA alarm kept us constantly on alert trying to tell the difference from moving and anchored ships. At dawn we passed through the Bay Bridge and turned north, getting out of the channel as quickly as possible. The winds held steady all the way to the Potomac. The sky to the northwest and the radio warned of severe thunderstorms. We stopped to watch the thunder and lightning display pass by and continued on to Mill Creek, anchoring before midnight. The next day we motored north in light winds and fog to the Eastern Bay and home.
It is hard to sail south into a southwest wind in the ocean. AIS and radar are good things to have, but CPA alerts can be awfully annoying in heavy ship traffic. The Abacos are a beautiful and easy place to cruise. West of Guana, there are few places to get provisions. There is next to nothing on Grand. They didn’t have diesel fuel when we were there. Walkers is abandoned.
Spanish has a marina, but with poor protection from the south. The store is sparsely stocked and expensive, but there is a nice pool. A Zodiac is key to all fun in the Abacos. Learn how to clean and service the carburetor. We learned a lot about our own boat, how to pack, and what to take or not take. Organization of all the gear is always a challenge. The tool or part you want always takes an hour to find because it’s buried in a locker under other stuff. Did I mention an inventory is a very good thing to have?
You can see our entire route and photos on the SPOT Adventure web site,”Anduril 2014.” Even with the challenges and sometimes uncomfortable offshore sailing, Terrie and I are now planning our next adventure.
About the Authors: Craig and Terrie Holberger sail their Beneteau First 35 Anduril out of Kent Island, MD.