March 5, 2020 we arrived in the anchorage outside of Matthew Town. This was to be our port of entry into the Bahamas. We dropped our anchor at around 7:30 in the morning. The seas had been minimal during the last of our passage but were picking up as we dropped our anchor. We had received our negative COVID tests by email and were anxious to submit these to the powers that be in the Bahamas. Once this was done, we were free to check in. There is a town dock inside a rock harbor that housed the immigration offices. In our research about this harbor, we had heard that if the weather was at all from the west, you could get trapped inside, sometimes with disastrous results! Our goal was to dinghy in, check in with the authorities and get out of the area before a storm was due to arrive in 1-2 days. As we were preparing to lower the dinghy, the seas grew increasingly higher and the winds picked up. We dropped Tiny into a churning blue ocean. She whipped around and we pulled her to our transom to tie up and prepared to put the outboard in it’s place on her stern. As she was tied to our transom, the waves slapped over her sides causing her to take on water. This was going to be tricky! We hefted the outboard from the back railing of Slow Dancer and Ken jumped into Tiny ready to take the heavy outboard from Dale. He was in a couple of inches of water with more entering all of the time. This was not going to work! So out he climbed and we replaced the outboard on the railing and pulled Tiny around, emptied her and hefted her onto the deck. Great…..now how would we check in? We watched as other cruisers took their much larger and more powerful dinghies into the harbor, and they were having trouble, we would have never made it. So Ken called the number for the town dock and spoke to the office assistant. They had a space for us in the harbor so that we could check in. Yikes…..the dangerous harbor. But we HAD to check in and there was a storm coming! So in we went with the promise that the office lady would grab our lines to help us tie up in the wind. Wow….the docks are so tall! There is no way that we could do this without help! Oh good, here she comes….hurry, hurry! Apparently she was not the regular dock help as she had no idea what to do. As we approached the dock, Dale threw the line up to her. She wrapped it around a piling and let go! NO!!! You have to tie it!! Slow Dancer’s stern was drifting toward the catamaran next to us and her bow had hit the dock! Ken threw another line to her with instructions to TIE IT, while Dale used the boat hook to push us off the other boat before any damage occurred. Eventually a line got tied and Ken dashed up the ladder onto the dock to tie the rest. We were there….but was there any damage? Our bow had hit the wooden dock. Ken inspected it and noticed that our running light cover was missing! This is an important piece of equipment when cruising at night. It has a red lens on the port side and a green lens on the starboard side. We would never be able to replace this in the Bahamas. Now what?!
We climbed the ladder to the top of the dock and walked into the office to check in. This was a long process and required visits from both Customs and Immigration. AND it was supposed to be done online. Well, it wasn’t, so Ken had to work with our stellar dock assistant, who turned out to be a great office assistant! Together they completed the online form and presented it to the Customs official. $350 in cash (only) and 90 minutes later, we we were officially allowed to cruise in Bahamian waters.
While Ken worked with the officials, Dale set out to find someone to dive into the harbor to rescue our running light cover. A lobster fisherman was located and he agreed (with a little help from U.S. dollars) to dive for our lens. The poor guy searched and searched under our boat as well as the dock for over 30 minutes. Yippeee! He found it! He was happy with his reward and we were certainly happy with the outcome.
OK, two issues down, now to find fuel and cell phone chips. There just happened to be a fuel truck in the dirt parking area of the docks. Yes, he could fill our empty cans for a price. Wow…..it was clear that we did not come to the Bahamas with enough cash! OK, Bahamian phone chips were next…..more cash! That should be it, but now we were in need of an ATM! Since it was evening and we were exhausted, we decided to rest and walk to the ATM in the morning before leaving and heading to another island 100 miles away.
In talking to our neighbor on the catamaran, we found that they had been to this island several times and knew of a safe area to wait out a northeast blow. Wow….this would be so much easier and safer than rushing to another island that we may or may not be able to hide from the weather. OK, it was settled, two nights at the dock then on to Molasses Reef to wait out the storm.
The next day we walked to Matthew Town to explore. Well, not much here, but we did find a bank and a small store. We certainly noticed the difference between this island and Jamaica. Where Jamaica was lush and green with great extremes in mountains and valleys, this island was so flat that the houses stood out as the tallest part of the island. Plus, Matthew Town had very few people! Most of the residents worked for the Morton Salt Company producing great mounds of salt from the island’s salt flats.
The next morning, knowing that the storm would be there soon, we headed out to the south side of the island to tuck in behind the reef and wait out the storm. One thing that the charts did not identify fully was the extent of the coral heads in this area. So trying not to destroy any coral as well as get our anchor to set correctly in the sand became a two hour process! We finally found a spot of sand, but it was bordered by coral heads and rocks. And the storm was beginning….yes, it was powerful! Outside the anchorage, the seas became 11 feet! Our anchorage behind the reef was somewhat protected, but we still had 3-4 foot waves and bounced and spun on our anchor for five restless days. Finally on day 6, the seas had moderated to 6 feet and we escaped to a northwest anchorage where we found much smoother conditions. One more day and we are off to explore Crooked Island!