Another fantastic Colgate Sailing Adventures® flotilla
By Heather Hild Atwater
Editor’s note: Flotilla cruising is an excellent way to enjoy an unforgettable charter vacation, particularly if your sailing experience is limited. And you won’t find nicer or more capable flotilla leaders than Heather Hild Atwater & Nate Atwater, who lead Offshore Sailing School’s Colgate Sailing Adventures® Flotilla Cruises to exotic destinations around the world.
What do a pilot, a librarian, an artist, a cowgirl and a financial planner all have in common? In this case, it is a Colgate Sailing Adventures® Vacation!
All twenty of us earned our seat at the Meet and Greet Dinner Party in Nassau, Bahamas. We had jumped through Bahamian hoops to gain entry into their country, and we were all gathered together to begin our adventure in the Exumas aboard four catamarans: Santiva, captained by trip leader Nate Atwater, Jubulani, captained by Dave Hassett (both Sunsail 454s), Chica Chula, a Sunsail 454 captained by Mike Mahan, and Fan Sea, a Sunsail 4500 captained by Cindy Schmitt.
The Pink Octopus restaurant location left little to be desired. We sat and gazed out at the turquoise waters of the Yellow Bank, which we were soon to cross, palm trees blowing in the wind, and Bahamian upscale architecture in the background. We were served a rum punch followed by a tasty meal of fresh Mahi Mahi with fingerling potatoes and asparagus or two other choices. We began to get to know each other a bit on this first night of seven. We retired to our aft decks after yummy cheesecake to contemplate the beginning of another sailing adventure.
Nassau to Highbourne Cay
After taking care of lots of odds and ends, we pushed off the docks at 10:50 a.m. The Sunsail base staff takes the boats in and out of the Palm Cay Marina, which has an extremely narrow entrance (only one boat at a time). The wind was 12-16 knots and on the nose for our 30-plus nautical mile passage to Highbourne Cay, so it was a bit of a slough. The Yellow Bank is dotted with coral heads, but they are all a safe depth for the 5-foot draft of these cats…albeit a bit unnerving in the crystal-clear water. We set anchor around 3:30 in time for a swim, dinghy ride, or snorkel in the pristine waters of the Bahamas. Aboard Santiva we served up Chinese chicken with veggies over rice, and chocolate for dessert. Diana, Nate, Bob, Carroll and I played our first game of Gin Rummy.
Highbourne Cay to Warderick Wells
After gathering for the Skippers’ meeting, we picked up anchor and set sails by 9 a.m. to head south toward our destination. It was a beautiful close-hauled sail…until the wind pooped out and we had to power to get to our moorings at the Land and Sea Park in Warderick Wells. We picked up our reserved moorings, with fanfare! What a spot it is and a little tricky to steer the wide cats around the moored yachts through a very narrow channel with current with us, then opposing us…tricky indeed. Well done, skippers. Later we heard the Park Ranger complimenting a young child for navigating it so well…it turned out he was speaking about tiny Cindi, skipper of Fan Sea.
In all the Bahamas, this is on the very top of the list. It has pristine beaches, great snorkeling, hiking, and just stunning nature. Aboard Santiva we had rigged up a line off our stern for swimming because there was a strong current. Unfortunately, a swimmer did not grab it and was getting swept away. She was not a strong swimmer and could not fight the current. A gallant gentleman, Bob, dove into to help to no avail. Thankfully, they were able to grab hold of the next boat’s mooring line and I had to retrieve them both in the dinghy. I mention this as a safety point…you cannot swim for long against a strong current. When testing it out, always swim into the current first.
Most of us gathered on the beach for sundowner cocktails at 6 p.m. The sun was still so strong we had to dip our feet in the water to cool off while enjoying a beverage. That night aboard Santiva, Bob did an awesome job of grilling the New York strip steaks while we watched the sun set. Diana and I made veggies and potatoes. After we gorged ourselves on double-stuff Oreos, we played one hand of Rummy 500 then off to well-deserved sleep.
Warderick Wells to Staniel Cay (Bay of Pigs)
We started the day off with a maintenance call from Fan Sea. The bolt that holds the head of the sail to the Antal sail track system had fallen out. Luckily, they were able to retrieve the long bolt, but the nut was gone. We needed parts to fix this and hoped to get them at Staniel Cay later that day. We squeezed in a nice hike that morning up Boo Boo Hill. The beginning of the hike was coral, then sand. Once at the summit, the views back to our fleet and out to sea were so worth it.
We headed back to the boats and off the moorings and we arrived in the Bay of Pigs at around 1:20-ish. We had to power as the wind was south and so was our heading. Nate and I took the folks who needed a COVID test at the five-day mark in by dinghy to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. The pre-arranged testing was seamless, and Nate found the parts needed to fix the mainsail…Success! We headed back to the boats via Thunderball Grotto and the swimming pigs. We did not get too close to the pigs, as they can be quite aggressive.
We all met up at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for a delicious four-course meal that was part of the Colgate Sailing Adventures® flotilla package. It was Kent’s 62nd birthday so he was fêted with bongo drums and all the wait staff singing with a candle on the coconut pie. A good time was had by all! Once back aboard our boat, we got a call from one of the skippers. Their dinghy engine had stopped. Nate and Ben hopped in our dingy to rescue them. Luckily, they were well lit and just where they said they were. Turns out their painter had dropped overboard and caught in the propeller. Lesson learned, thank goodness!
Staniel Cay to Hawksbill Cay
We started the morning off with a few stragglers snorkeling the Thunderball Grotto who had not gone there the day before. Then we picked up anchor around 10:15 and set sail amidst clouds to the southwest. Soon we were greeted by a waterspout developing some distance ahead of us. I called all the boats on channel 68, our inter-boat channel for communication, and asked everyone to furl and drop sails, in an abundance of caution. It became clear that conditions were ripe for developing waterspouts as we saw another two shortly after. We continued to power in the direction of our destination but veering away from the dark clouds while doing so.
After lunch the weather had settled, and we were able to set sail again. It was a nice broad reach in 8 knots of breeze we reached 5.4 knots as we adjusted sail to maximize speed. We carefully made our way into Hawksbill Cay, avoiding the large coral heads, and picked up moorings from the Exumas Land and Sea Park. It was a pristine, desolate spot, perfect for the hike up to the hilltop cairn or a snorkel or swim. We all had time to relax, shake off the weather stress and soak up the beauty of the surroundings. That night I prepared shrimp scampi over linguine just as it’s done in the Italian restaurants, with plenty of garlic! While we were playing Rummy 500, we were startled by two evening swimmers, Kent and Tom. They said the water temperature was perfect and there was no boat traffic. It was a very special spot.
Hawksbill Cay to Normans Cay via Shroud Cay
Lots on the docket today, starting with a gorgeous sunrise over Hawksbill, followed by a rainbow to the southwest. Nate prepared a yummy frittata for breakfast with bacon and cheese. Yoga stretches on the upper deck of Santiva, at the same time as the Navigation meeting was held down below. Off the moorings at 9ish, we powered around to Shroud Cay where we all piled into the dinghies for a ride through the mangroves. We saw lots of turtles, and rays and barracuda too. Halfway through, we stopped for a refreshing swim at the rapids. We got back to the boat and prepared lunch before setting off to Normans Cay. Just as we were arriving at the anchorage at Normans, a small rainstorm blew through, making our landing a bit hectic. We all got anchored safely off Normans, albeit a bit wet. After the weather blew through, some went around in the dinghies to snorkel the plane wreck on the other side of Normans. Lots of good fish to see, and rays too. Dinner that night was aboard or onshore at McDuffs for a delightful lobster fare. Those that went in really enjoyed it!
Normans Cay to Nassau
We woke to a beautiful cloudy sunrise followed by Nav. Rounds and picked up anchor around 8:30 for the 36-nautical mile sail back to Nassau and the Sunsail base. It was a really nice sail all day! Starboard tack close reach, winds 11-18 knots and speeds 5.5 – 7.5 knots. We arrived back to the base with a bit of hubbub surrounding our docking. We had arranged to have them bring us back in, but they were not organized when we arrived. Skipper Dave did a great job bringing Jubulani to the fuel dock through the tricky, narrow channel. Ray brought the rest of us in one by one and fueled up the boats. All I can say is thank goodness we decided to do this the day ahead instead of the morning of!!!
Once we were all docked, we met up for drinks at the Ink to celebrate the end of another Colgate Sailing Adventures® flotilla. The music was flowing and followed by a good meal at the Pink Octopus, where we sat the week prior contemplating the start of our adventure. Now we could reflect on all the fun, sailing and beauty we had encountered in a week that flew by. The pilot, the librarian, the artist, the cowgirl and the financial planner could now count each other as new friends.