Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Simple Life Winter in Abaco

The beautiful beaches of Hopetown
     This was a tough weather, winter in the Bahamas. Cold fronts, gales, even a rare derecho became part of cruisers' weather lexicon. A veritable melting pot of rough weather from the northern Abacos all the way to Ragged Island in the Jumentos. Our weather router Chris Parker resorted to describing weather situations as being less bad than. For example, a crossing in the Gulf Stream will be less bad tomorrow than today.

      Simple Life made her crossing on short notice January 1, 2016 from Florida's Lake Worth Inlet to Black Sound, Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas. This was our first crossing from the north, preferring previous departures from South Beach, Miami and the Florida Keys.



 




Mac & Cheese and Peace & Rice 
two Abaco Dinghies on the beach in Hopetown
Photo by Joe Boulay
   
      Weather this season seemed more unpredictable than ever before. After monitoring weather windows for several days we hastily chose to cross over from the north to Abaco. It was a good crossing. Did we plan to spend the season in Abaco? It wasn't in the original plan. Our plan was to head toward the out islands of Exuma and meet up with friends Bob and Robin in the Jumentos. A few nasty cold fronts and a couple of gales later and I was more than happy to spend the winter in the relative safety of the Sea of Abaco. Hopetown's mooring field filled with like minded cruisers who'd made the same decision.

Hopetown Harbor from atop the lighthouse
   
     Boaters who headed south to Georgetown this season were not exempt from extreme weather. Stormy weather and seas hit there along with a rare derecho packing 50+ to 100 mph winds that struck during darkness and lasted several hours. Numerous vessels anchored from Staniel Cay to Georgetown, Exuma suffered serious damage. A few were holed and totaled. Damage ranged from torn canvas dodgers and biminis, capsized and shredded dinghies, mangled stanchions and damaged fiberglass. A few cruisers suffered injuries. One lost a finger in an anchor windlass mishap. Anchors and chain were lost and seasoned cruisers were rattled beyond reality when the unexpected derecho descended. Living aboard is a challenge in and of itself. After hearing of the freak storm I thought, "Why take chances making life more difficult? I like sleeping at night. Maybe we should stay in Hopetown."

The waterfront settlement in Hopetown
     Hopetown's settlement is one of the most picturesque in Abaco with its historic red and white lighthouse built in 1863. It one of the few lighthouses that has a full time keeper who lights its small kerosene-fueled mantle each evening at dusk. There is a huge rotating glass fresnel lens projecting a beam of light that can be seen for up to twenty miles. Surrounding the harbor are colorfully, restored cottages along two narrow waterfront lanes. Artists, writers and musicians are drawn to its quaint inspirational appeal. The island bound original community of Hopetown settlers on Elbow Cay descended from eighteenth century Loyalists escaping the American Revolution. Many of whom have remained in Hopetown.

Joe enjoying the scenery at On Da Beach
     Hopetown's unique qualities hastened our decision to secure a mooring. Soon we settled in embracing the lifestyle. Numerous festivals and events were scheduled throughout the winter. There was even a Songwriters Festival featuring several well known country music writers from Nashville. Weekly events included a writers circle and a painters group. Hopetown has a few good restaurants, beach combing, snorkeling, and spear-fishing!

Dan's birthday party from Cutting Class & Michele having a chat
   









Will from Antares spends his days restoring Abaco Dinghys







     Wintering in Abaco gave us the opportunity to relax and meet a new group of boaters who've spent winters in Hopetown for several years. Joe was fascinated by a few who spent their days restoring wooden Abaco sailing dinghies and was even invited to skipper one in a race! I became friends with a group of intrepid ladies when I raced for the trophy in the Di Hunter Women's Race aboard Sunfish sailboats on a blustery day in March.
Michele on a screaming reach to the finish off
Hopetown, Abaco

 

Joe skippering Nothing's Easy an Abaco Dinghy
   Joe enjoyed beach combing each day. He has been dubbed my "golden retriever." He finds so many interesting pieces of wormwood and driftwood, beach glass and sea beans. The ever popular sea beans or drift seeds and their lore of mystical powers originate primarily in forests in Costa Rica and Belize where large bat pollinated pods release seeds into rivers that flow toward the ocean. The seeds drift along in currents that deposit them on beaches following storms along east facing shorelines of the Atlantic Ocean occasionally delivering them via the Gulf Stream all the way to Ireland! Joe found 13 sea beans this season. He has plans to polish them for jewelry.

Joe with a nice catch
     Since the winter was windy and seas were raging spear fishing and pole fishing opportunities at the reef were limited. However, during a few calm days Joe did manage to get into the water spearing several good sized lobsters before lobster season ended on March 31. I experimented with numerous recipes for these delectable critters. Each one proved to be a culinary adventure in the galley.

A pair of lobsters speared in the same hole
 

















The ingredients prepared for Szechuan Lobster



Man O War Dinghy 
       Spring has sprung and the annual migration north has begun. Boats heading north have been passing through Abaco daily. This week after leaving Hopetown for Marsh Harbour, three cold fronts were expected once again ushering in northerly winds and high seas. After taking a dock in Marsh Harbour for some much needed boat maintenance we moved on to Man-O-War Cay to await a safe crossing of the Whale Cay Passage to the northern Abacos and an eventual Gulf Stream Passage north. How far will we go? Our weather router Chris Parker does not recommend a multi day passage north due to another cold front stalling off northern Florida. However, it looks like there will be a favorable overnight passage from Great Sale Cay to Fort Pierce, Florida early next week. Life onboard can often seem like a chess game. Plans are made, but we make a move when and if the opportunity arises hoping for as Chris Parker would say, "The least bad crossing."

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Location:Hopetown, Abaco