Category Archives: Berry Islands

Weather, weather, weather…

Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands, Bahamas
Position: 25 44.822N, 077 51.519W
Posted by Bill

While waiting out the high winds in South Bimini, we enjoyed the infinity pool and the beautiful beaches there. We also took the dinghies over to Radio Beach on North Bimini, did some swimming and harvested sea shells and sea glass. Infinity pool and beach:
We were definitely ready to get moving. Like last year, so far we have had a couple of days of a decent weather window sandwiched by 5-7 days of high winds and rough seas. We took advantage of a 2 day window and left South Bimini on March 2nd. We were originally going to go straight to the Exumas, which required a 3 day window and a series of 3 day hops, one anchoring on the Great Bahama Banks, two anchoring in West Bay on New Providence Island, and three to the Exuma chain. We only had a 2 day window, and the end of the window was a rapid front approaching from the north, ramping winds to over 30 knots very quickly on March 3rd. Winds in the mid to high 20s were forecasted for a week following the frontal system, so we needed a place to go to that had good protection. We opted to go to the Berry Islands, Great Harbour Cay, and take a slip in Great Harbour Cay Marina, a very well protected harbor. We stayed here two years ago, so we knew it was a good place. We left South Bimini at first light and dropped the anchor about 6 miles from the Great Harbour entrance at 8:30 that night, at position: 25 45.115N, 077 55.739W. The next day we pulled into our slips at 8:00 in the morning. The front hit us in mid afternoon, and we have been having winds in the 25-35 knot range since then. It also got cold…mid to high 60s…brrrrr! We took the dinghies out one day on the calm side of the island, to see if we could do some lobster and fish hunting in spite of the high winds, but it has just been too cold to go. Kurt and Sharon on Byrd Ketcher bought a condo here last year, so we also have been helping them put up pictures and mount TVs, and the detour to here has given us more time to spend with them…so that has been one good outcome of our change in plans. Their condo is on Sugar Beach, which is one of the nicest beaches we have seen in our Bahamas adventures. It faces the east, where the high winds are coming from, and here is what it looked like the other day:DSC_0047
Look closely at the waves breaking on the barrier island in the background. They are pushing at least 10 feet in the air.

Crazy. Believe it or not, we saw a sailboat out there sailing south! It may be hard to tell, but the waves are probably 8 or 9 feet! Not for us:

So we are stuck here for a few more days. Initially, the forecast showed a 2 day reprieve from the winds before it ramped back up over 25 knots for another week. We still need 3 days to get to the Exumas, so we thought we were going to be stuck for a long time here, but yesterday’s forecast showed a 3 to 4 day window of reasonable wind and seas, starting this Thursday. We will hope for this to hold true, so we can make the run. There is really not much to do here, and the weather is too crappy to enjoy the beaches and waters. We are anxious to get back to the incredible beauty of the Exumas, but the weather determines our lives in this lifestyle. We have had bouts of outages of our internet access and cellular service, so it has been difficult to communicate back to the States, and to post blog entries. Such is life in “da Islands mon”.

First crossing to get to the Abacos

Cross Harbour, Abacos, Bahamas
Position: 25 56.314N, 77 17.517W
Posted by Bill

We had a fantastic 3 day weather window of light winds and fairly calm seas, so we left at dawn and motored up the west side of the Berry Islands, rounded the top and headed almost due east for an anchorage on Great Abaco Island in the Abacos. You can see all of us motoring in a line and see how calm it was:

At the top of the Berrys is a key called Coco Cay that the cruise ships use as a destination, with shore side excursions that serves as the primary source of jobs on the Berrys. We passed this ship as we rounded the top of the Berrys:

By the way, all of the keys in the Bahamas and throughout the Caribbean are spelled Cay, but pronounced “key”, and the difference between a cay (or key) and an island is that an island has it’s own source of fresh water. Most of the water in the Bahamas is made through a process called “reverse osmosis” where the sea water is pushed through a very fine filter at high pressure, thus leaving the salt and elements behind.

We crossed a part of the ocean that is called the Northwest Passage, and most of the passage was well over 1,000 feet deep. I think the deepest part we crossed was over 21,000 feet deep. It is actually kind of creepy to think about. The depth sounder on the boat just read DEEP, as if to say, “don’t even worry about it”:

At 4:30 we arrived at Cross Harbour and anchored in about 8 feet of water. We were the only people around for miles. The water was so typically clear you could see sand dollars on the bottom:
They were everywhere. We ate, had a few sundowners, and watched the sunset:

Mark and Jan on their boat Island Bound, departed from the group after we reached the top of the Berrys, as they are headed for Nassau and the Exuma island chain further south. We will miss them and look forward to getting together again next year.

Getting ready to move on up the cays

Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands, Bahamas
Posted by Bill

Saaturday, we ended up going to the festival in town. It was a fund raiser for the school here on Great Harbour Cay, and they do it once a year. There was a food booth, a tent for activities for the kids, and bingo. As we were standing in line for the food, we struck up a conversation with a man that happened to be a teacher. He was very articulate and had a zest for what they were doing at the school. He invited us to walk up the road and check it out. When we walked up to the school later that afternoon, Dirk (the teacher) was there with his son. He gave us a personal tour, and it was really interesting. They have around 170 students and are the only school in the Berry Islands. The total population in the Berrys is around 700, so that is a lot of kids. They are promoting healthy life styles and encouraging the kids to be producers and not just consumers. One of the ways they are doing this is by teaching them to grow their own food. They have a compost pile and a garden, and just recently added a green house. They encourage the kids to take seedlings home and maintain a garden there too. Their programs are designed to start at the school but permeate the town, hoping to shape the culture…way cool! We were very impressed. Here are some pictures courtesy of Sofia Jeanne:


For dinner, Tricia made 2 batches of pizza dough and all of the people we are cruising with brought toppings. We sat in our cockpit and made pizzas on the grill, ate and drank until late in the evening. It was really good pizza, and as always, we had a great time with our friends.

Yesterday, we took the dinghies up to Shark Creek again. It was chilly and windy, and we didn’t see as much sea life as we did the last time. We landed on a small cay and did some shelling, and Tricia found some cool conch shells.

Picture from the cay:

Negotiating Shark Creek in the narrow part:

Tricia caught a turtle surfacing:
and also a large stingray:

The wind picked up and we got completely soaked on the dinghy ride back. Everyone was cold and took hot showers.

Today we prep to leave for the Abacos, the northern chain of cays and islands in the Bahamas. We will anchor off of the southwest tip tomorrow night and then sail up to the Little Harbour entrance on Wednesday, where we will go inside the barrier cays and work our way through the chain.

Still chillin’ in Great Harbour Cay

Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands, Bahamas
Posted by Bill

It’s been a few days since my last post, but not much new is going on here for the last couple of days. The weather has been hot and humid, but the winds have picked up. We tried to go back to Shark Creek again but it was too rough in the banks for the dinghy trip over. Instead we have been doing some boat maintenance, washing the boat, defrosting the refrigerator, and stuff like that each morning. Then in the afternoon we have been wallowing at the beach. We are becoming professional wallowers! Last night a front came through bringing 36 knot winds and some rain, which we haven’t seen in a long, long time. We really hadn’t planned to stay here this long, but I am glad we were here last night. This harbor is very protected and a good place to ride out bad weather. We heard from friends in the Abacos that they had over 52 knot winds and 4 foot waves in their anchorage…not a fun time at all.

We tried to participate in the weekly event called Grill and Chill. You pay $10 per person and get a traditional Bahamian meal from the grill. They had ribs, chicken, steak and conch, with peas and rice, mac and cheese, and corn on the cob. We were 3rd in line to get our order in, but they filled the orders randomly and by the time ours came up, there were no more ribs, which was what we ordered. We got our money back, but then Tricia was having to cook at the last minute and late at night. Not cool. All of the events organized by the locals are very disorganized and sometimes get cancelled at the last minute. You need patience and a backup plan for everything.

That being said, you will always find the people here to be very friendly and open. Today is an annual fair that the island puts on, with Bahamian food and music. The locals made sure to invite us and I think we will go check it out, especially since it is really windy and chilly (72 degrees…funny how you get used to the heat, and get cold in a really comfortable temperature). I’ll report back if we attend.

Exploring Shark Creek

Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands, Bahamas
Posted by Bill

Here are the directions we got:
1. Go out the cut and go left
2. Stay to the right of the little island or you will run aground
3. Look for a boat fender in the trees and then take the first cove on the left
4. Go into the mangroves and when you see a fork with another boat fender in the trees, go left
5. The creek will open up and a branch right has turtles and rays, the branch straight will take you to the beach
6. Go 1 hour before high tide and don’t stay longer than 2 hours or you won’t be able to get back

We gladly accepted Gary’s offer to follow him and he would lead us in for our first time. This was a good move. It took us about 40 minutes to get to the open area and it was well worth it! It is very, very shallow working through the mangroves, and it is only wide enough to fit a dinghy. The tidal current was pushing us around and several times we clipped the mangrove trees on either side. Pics:

The first fender in the trees (it’s the white thing near the center of the picture). I never would have seen this if Gary hadn’t pointed it out:

Working through the mangroves:

In this open area we saw turtles, rays and fish:
We couldn’t get a good picture of the turtles and rays. They are so fast! I thought turtles were slow, but these guys can crank. Kurt and Matt did some spear fishing and caught a couple of lobsters, more lion fish and some snapper. Then we motored over the to beach area:
Here we saw a couple of sharks. One was about 5-6 feet long and was in about 2 feet of water, fins protruding above the surface. It’s a good thing that the water is so clear so you can see them!

We made it back to the banks before we ran out of water in Shark Creek, made a short trip to a beach for some wallowing, and then snorkeled the sunken car for more fishing. No luck. When we got back to the marina, they were organizing a weekly event called “drink and drift”. A bunch of people go out on the banks in their dinghies, tie all of the dinghies together and drift and drink to watch the sunset. The wind had picked up and almost everyone thought it was too rough, so we went back inside the cut and drifted in the lagoon. It was fun.

Great day!

Snorkeling, fishing and wallowing…oh my

Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands, Bahamas
Posted by Bill

We really hadn’t intended on staying in a marina much here in the Bahamas, but when we got here, the forecast showed 2 periods of heavy wind that we figured we would ride out here versus be at anchor. The marina is really nice, and so are the people. The slip rates are much better than in Florida, and we found out from one of the residents that we can explore most of the Berry Islands by dinghy here or by renting a small power boat for a day. As it turns out, the forecast improved, so we didn’t need to seek a more comfortable place to stay, but now that we are here we will go with it.

Yesterday we took the dinghies out of the harbor and on to the banks. A couple of miles from the harbor entrance there is a plane wreck in about 10 feet of water which was pretty good snorkeling. Then we landed on a small remote beach to wallow for awhile. Not nearly as pretty as the big one, but we had the place to ourselves. Matt and Kurt have fishing and spearing gear, so on the way back we looked for some coral heads to snorkel and fish. I am not sure who found it, but there was a small patch of sand (most of the bottom around us is thick grass) with the remains of a car where Kurt and Matt speared 8 lion fish. Lion fish are an invasive species that have no natural predator, and they will kill all the fish on a reef, eventually affecting the health of the ecosystem. When you see them, you are encouraged to kill as many as you can. They have spines all over them that are venomous. With the help of a neighbor, the guys filleted them and Matt cooked them up for appetizers. They had a buttery taste and were delicious. Here they are before they were cleaned and filleted:

Today we got the clown bikes out of storage and taking our snorkeling gear, we rode over to the point of that lovely crescent beach on the ocean side of the cay. We learned that it is really good snorkeling at low tide. It was a long ride and there wasn’t much snorkeling to do as the tide was too high. We started back and stopped at The Beach Club, which is a beach bar with great spicy chicken wings and rum drinks. Then we went to the Monday night pot luck at the marina, and ended up playing Cards Against Humanity (a really fun card game) till after 10.

Wallowing at Great Harbor Cay

Great Harbor Cay, Berry Islands, Bahamas
Position: 25 44.866N, 77 51.597W
Posted by Bill

Yesterday we left our anchorage at dawn and motor sailed the rest of the way to the Berry Islands. We took a slip at Great Harbor Cay marina on Great Harbor Cay. We were surprised at how friendly the people were here and how well kept the marina was. The rest rooms are modern, well maintained and clean. It was a distinct contrast from Bimini. The Berry Islands are pretty remote, so there are not a lot of places to go eat, but the beach on the Atlantic side is gorgeous:

Shortly after arriving, we saw a small manatee next to our boat. This diver was cleaning the bottom of the boat next to us and the manatee just came up to him. He played with the manatee for quite some time.

One of the first things we did was check out the beach. Then we ate a big seafood feast and finished off the crab claws we got in Bimini, and the lobsters Kurt bought. It was good!

Today we got up early to go to the grocery store. There are 2 grocery stores on the island, and we learned that one of them got fresh produce delivered on the day we arrived here. On the small islands and cays, food is delivered on the mail boat, and produce comes every 2 weeks. If you want it fresh you need to get there early…and they run out quickly. So we all jumped in the dinghies and motored to the other side of the lagoon, tied our dinghies to a tree and walked into town. We checked out both grocery stores, and bought a dozen eggs and 2 heads of romaine lettuce…just under $10…wow!

With the light winds and the hot sun, it gets really warm unless you stay in the shade. When we got back from the store we were ready for a swim and some wallowing. Wallowing is where you just hang out in the water and shoot the shit, usually enjoying cool beverages. We mixed up a batch of Painkillers, walked to the beach, and wallowed the afternoon away. Here is a group selfie:
Later Matt volunteered to make a Mexican feast for our dining pleasure, and it was delicious! We all went back to our boats early, as we were tired from sun, sea and rum. I think the neighboring boats are getting jealous. They have seen our food feasts (which have been fantastic) and see how much fun we are having together. Every day they want to know what we are going to do next.

We have seen several buildings that look like condos, both along the beach and in the marina. This area is very remote, but if you like to hang at the beach, this is a good option. We have heard that the condos are very affordable.

Across the Bahama Banks to the Berry Islands

Great Harbor Cay, Bahamas
Position: 25 32.838N, 078 11.918W
Posted by Bill

We left at dawn to cross the Great Bahama Banks to the Berry Islands. The banks have a depth that is pretty much 15 feet for 60 some miles east and west. You need good weather to have a comfortable passage and the next week is going to be perfect as weather windows go. There is a large high pressure system sitting in the Atlantic that is keeping winds below 10 knots. The wind was light and was off the port beam so we motor sailed as usual. 61 nautical miles later, we are getting close to the Northwest Passage where the Tongue of the Ocean meets the banks on the south side of the Berry Islands. We weren’t sure how the sea state would be at this juncture, so we aimed a little north where we would be out of the potential boat traffic, and in the lee of shoal areas which we figured would protect us from rough water at the junction of the Tongue and the banks. It was a long 12 hour day and we only went 62 miles. Pics:

Tricia manning the main sail:
Island Bound underway on the banks:
Along the way, a fishing boat cruised by and offered some fresh lobster…5 tails for $25, and Kurt bought some.
We would have bought some too but they skipped us.

Tricia made a great dinner and we crashed pretty early. Up early tomorrow to go to Great Harbor Cay.